WASHINGTON – Republicans guided a $388 billion domestic spending bill toward congressional passage on Saturday, hoping to climax lawmakers' lame-duck session by shipping President Bush (search) a measure that clamps down on spending from education to clean energy projects.
In a rare Saturday session that leaders hoped would be their last business day of 2004, the House and Senate planned votes on the massive legislation — six weeks after the government's new budget year started. In what is becoming an annual rite on Capitol Hill, lawmakers and their staffs had just a few hours before votes were to be cast to sort through the complex bill, which combined with explanatory documents measured 14 inches tall.
"We intend to make sure we're not going to have any wild spending sprees like we've had in the past," said Rep. Pete Sessions (search), R-Texas, as House debate began.
Many Democrats were expected to support the measure because of the many popular programs it finances. Even so, they complained that Republicans were forcing a bill through Congress that was too stingy to many programs and that contained buried provisions that might not have survived on their own.
"This process smells, and the odor wafts from sea to shining sea," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
Final disputes were not swept away until shortly before midnight Friday, when lawmakers dropped an effort to block Bush's drive to shift some federal work to private companies. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, helped win an extra $300 million for NASA, pushing the space agency's total over $16 billion.
While the bill was loaded with thousands of projects for lawmakers' home districts, it most of all reflected the hardball realities of deficit politics. Congress' Republican majority balanced generous increases — like a 12 percent boost for the FBI to $5.2 billion and more aid for the refugee catastrophe in Sudan — with cuts in some programs and token increases for others.
"This is a lean and clean package that adheres to the budgetary limits agreed to by the president and Congress," said Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a chief author of the bill.
Among the victims were Bush priorities like education, which would grow by less than 2 percent to nearly $57 billion. The National Endowment for Democracy, which buttresses democratic institutions abroad, got $60 million of the $80 million he wanted, while his FutureGen program to promote clean-burning power plants got $18 million — one-thirteenth of what the White House proposed.
To help pay for some of the bill's initiatives, a 0.83 percent cut was imposed on the agreed-upon level of every program.
Many Democrats were expected to grudgingly support the measure, realizing that the alternative the White House was offering — simply continuing last year's spending levels — would be even tighter and lack hometown projects.
Nine female senators, all but one Democrats, were upset over a House-passed provision making it easier for hospitals and other health care providers to refuse to provide abortions, pay for them or offer abortion (search) counseling.
There were winners and losers in the business community too.
Satellite television companies will be allowed to beam high definition network signals to some remote customers. The high technology industry won 20,000 additional visas for skilled foreign workers, but a labor-led effort to block Bush administration rules on overtime pay fell by the wayside.
The nation's ailing airlines won a one-year extension of government-sponsored terror and war-risk insurance but lost an appeal for waiver of the federal tax they pay on aircraft fuel. Also failing were efforts to extend some federal milk subsidies and repeal country-of-origin labels for many foods.
Congress gave itself nearly $3.6 billion for its own operations, a $48 million increase. The nation's arts and humanities endowments got a combined $38 million less than Bush proposed, despite efforts by the president and first lady, Laura Bush, for more.
The measure finances every Cabinet department but Defense and Homeland Security, whose budget bills have already become law, plus scores of other agencies.
The legislation is a combination of what are supposed to be nine separate bills, which were left until after Election Day because of numerous disputes.
Since the government's new budget year began Oct. 1, the covered agencies have run on temporary authority that was expiring Saturday night. Lawmakers planned to pass another extension running through Dec. 3 to give White House officials time to review the bill before Bush signs it.