WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle questioned the White House's threat to veto the Senate's $31.4 billion anti-terrorism bill, just days after President Bush warned of possible new attacks by the Al Qaeda network.
"It's troubling that the administration would say that we're spending too much on homeland defense, that we're spending too much on the effort on the war on terror ... given the fears generated by the pronouncements" by the administration, Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters.
But White House officials said they issued the veto threat Tuesday not because the president thought too much money was going to counter-terrorism efforts, but because senators had dumped a huge amount of pork into the supplemental bill for their own pet projects.
Bush's budget director complained in a Statement of Administration Policy that the Senate's measure exceeds the $27.1 billion request that the president sent Congress in March. The House passed a $29 billion measure last month.
While most of the counter-terror legislation is dominated by funds for defense, intelligence, aviation safety, local law enforcement and aid to help New York rebuild from the attacks, the administration is complaining that the bill adds billions in unrequested funds for federal agencies, all under the guise of "security."
"The Senate bill includes scores of unneeded items that total billions of dollars — all classified as an 'emergency,"' said a White House statement on the bill. "The bill adds unrequested funds for numerous programs and projects throughout nearly all of the federal agencies."
This would include $100 million to secure Russian nuclear weapons and $315 million for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention construction, which the White House said could not possibly be spent this year.
The spending is for the remaining months of the federal fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30.
On Wednesday, Daschle accused Bush of calling into question the need to beef up counter-terror initiatives.
"For the administration to say, 'Well, we want to respond (to terror) but not that much,' is a hard sell to the American people," Daschle said.
Senators from both parties lined up to offer amendments that did not necessarily have anything to do with the war on terror. They included an effort by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to add $150 million for summer schools.
A plan by bipartisan fiscal conservatives to set spending limits for the next five years was also offered, but amendments seemed likely to lose.
Pork buster Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he will stand hard against the extra spending.
"We're going to go after this pork barrel spending and go after it and after it and after it," he said as he was preparing amendments to cut items from the bill.
Daschle is likely to try to limit debate through a procedural vote on Thursday. If he prevails, the Senate could finish the spending bill this week.
In Tuesday's only roll call, the Senate voted 91-4 to drop a ban the bill had included on new emergency loans for airlines until Oct. 1. The loans are part of a bailout program for air carriers enacted just after the Sept. 11 attacks.
This was a major victor for financially ailing US Airways, which says it needs a $1 billion emergency loan this summer. By erasing the $393 million the loan restrictions were supposed to save, the overall bill's cost grew to $31.4 billion.
The House's anti-terror bill still contains a provision blocking new loans until October, but aides predict the eventual House-Senate compromise will omit the restrictions.
"We'll work this out" by the time a compromise bill is finished, said Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, top Republican on the Appropriations Committee and co-author of the bill. He seemed unfazed by the administration's veto threat. "(It's) just a tactic of the administration."
Other fights also are likely before the Senate bill wraps up. The administration opposes two measures that are sure to get a lot of discussion:
— A provision making Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge's job one that requires Senate confirmation. Byrd has been feuding with Ridge over the White House's refusal to let him testify to Congress.
— Language requiring Bush to release $34 million in aid for overseas family planning efforts by the United Nations. An administration team recently returned from China, where it investigated conservative charges that U.N.-affiliated agencies help forced abortions and sterilizations there.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.