Senate OKs $36B Homeland Security Measure

The Senate rejected Democratic efforts to boost anti-terrorism spending for big cities Tuesday and approved legislation financing the Homeland Security Department (search) next year.

The price tag of the measure grew to about $36 billion as senators bowed to pressure from farm-state lawmakers and added $3 billion to help growers and livestock producers — mostly in the Midwest — suffering from drought.

The overall measure was approved by 93-0. The Senate must next work out a compromise with the House, which passed its version of the legislation in June.

The bill provides federal aid for anti-terror efforts by local police, fire and emergency-responder departments, as well as to the government's border security, immigration and other domestic security programs. Overall, the measure would exceed President Bush's request for such programs by more than $1 billion.

With elections less than two months off, Democrats were hoping the GOP would find it painful to vote against a series of amendments to boost security spending. But for the most part, Republicans fended off such amendments, such as one by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), D-N.Y., to add $625 million to the $875 million in the bill for cities considered at high risk of terrorist attacks.

"My sense is Democrats are proposing them for political purposes," Sen. Sam Brownback (search), R-Kan., said in an interview. "We need a balance between providing money for homeland security, and keeping deficits from going higher."

"I don't know why there isn't a political price to pay," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D. "I think in part they think the American people aren't watching."

The Senate neared a final vote on the bill less than three weeks from the start of the government's new budget year. Underscoring the budget logjam the Republican-run Congress faces, the measure would be only the second of the 13 annual spending bills for next year that the Senate has approved.

As the Homeland Security vote approached, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved three other spending bills. They were:

— A $20.2 billion measure for the Interior Department and other land and cultural programs. It included $2.9 billion for battling wildfires, about $500 million more than Bush requested. By a 14-9 vote, senators from lower Missouri River states failed to kill a provision letting the Army Corps of Engineers slow upstream water releases in states suffering from drought.

— A $90.6 billion measure financing the Transportation and Treasury Departments. The bill provides $1.2 billion for Amtrak, the financially struggling national passenger railroad, $300 million more than Bush wants. It includes two provisions that could draw Bush veto threats: One blocking the administration's restrictions on travel to Cuba by most Americans, the other blocking him from contracting out many federal jobs to private companies.

— A $16.8 billion measure financing agriculture programs. It has another provision opposed by Bush, easing limits on business people seeking to visit Cuba to sell food and medical supplies. The bill has money for well over 100 home-district projects for lawmakers, such as $150,000 for research in Prosser, Wash., into a virus threatening wine grapes.

On the homeland security bill, the full Senate accepted some amendments. It voted to boost money for firefighters by $100 million, taking the money out of administrative expenses.

And late Monday, the Senate approved language blocking the Homeland Security Department from granting new contracts to U.S. companies that have moved their offices offshore to reduce their tax liability.