WASHINGTON – The Senate rebuffed Democratic efforts to add billions to a mammoth $390 billion spending package on Friday as Republicans banded together behind President Bush in a drive to keep the bill's costs from ballooning.
A pair of 52-46 votes demonstrated anew the GOP's ability to hold its slim majority -- so far -- against Democrats trying to increase spending for a range of programs. Bush wants to limit the bill's price tag as the country battles terrorists, an economic slump and renewed federal red ink.
In a reminder that Bush and congressional Republicans don't always see eye to eye, the White House sent lawmakers a letter supporting passage of the bill but warning that a final House-Senate version would be vetoed unless it contains several restrictions that current law places on federal aid for abortion.
The Senate has long had a more moderate stance on abortion than the House, but the White House will have a strong voice in how the final bill treats the issue.
In one vote Friday, the Senate rejected a Democratic bid to restore $11 billion that Republicans had trimmed from every program in the bill to make room for added funds for farmers, schools and modernizing local election systems. Republicans said that even with those cuts, the legislation would boost spending for every department over last year's budget.
"I am carrying the president's torch. The president's torch is 'Remember the deficits,"' said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chief author of the legislation.
"The president says remember the deficit. I say remember the $1.6 trillion tax cut," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., referring to the 10-year tax package Bush won in 2001 that Democrats blame for reborn budget shortfalls.
The Senate also rejected a bid by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to add $500 million to the measure for the Byrne grants program for local police departments.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., abandoned his amendment seeking to add $150 million for equipment for detecting nuclear weapons that might be smuggled into ports. The Senate instead accepted a compromise by voice vote that would set aside $150 million for the initiative out of the $24.7 billion already in the bill for domestic security.
In one crack in their solidarity with Bush on Thursday, Republicans joined Democrats in a voice vote to push subsidies for Amtrak to $1.2 billion, $374 million more than the bill had included. The financially ailing passenger railroad has said it would be forced to shut down by spring if it got less than $1.2 billion.
Republicans said one provision of the bill raising Medicare reimbursements for rural hospitals and doctors would cost $400 million less than originally estimated, leaving room for the Amtrak funds without raising legislation's overall cost. But they and Democrats said the Amtrak amendment was popular enough to have passed anyway.
From national park maintenance to staffing veterans' hospitals, the bill would finance every agency but the Pentagon for the federal budget year that began Oct. 1. It combines 11 separate measures that died in the last Congress because Democrats and some Republicans balked at the spending limits Bush wanted.
Republicans want to pass the bill quickly and start work on next year's budget. But Democrats say the measure lacks sufficient funds, and frequently contrasted it with Bush's desire to pare taxes by $674 billion over the next decade.
The 1,052-page bill was studded with hundreds of projects senators carved out for their home states.
There was $350,000 for fruit research in Kearneysville, W.Va., home state of Byrd, senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes spending bills.
There was also $5.6 million for a new visitors center in Arches National Park in Utah, and $500,000 for a rooftop observatory for Widener University in Pennsylvania. GOP Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are both on the Appropriations Committee.