WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a $109 billion wartime emergency spending bill on a vote of 77-21, but the bill is substantially larger than the sum President Bush had requested.
The president has lodged a veto threat if the product out of House-Senate negotiations comes in above $94.5 billion. Last month, the House passed its version of the emergency supplemental bill with a $92.2 billion price tag. The extra $2.3 billion was assigned for possible bird flu containment efforts.
"The president made it very clear ... that this is a test on spending restraint. And he calls on Congress to fund our troops and fund the rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast and then hold the line on spending elsewhere. That means don't put unnecessary spending into this emergency legislation," Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.
"We urge the conference committee to resolve those differences quickly, get a bill back that meets what the president called for in terms of support for our troops and the Gulf Coast," McClellan said.
In a unique agreement with the White House, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., struck a deal whereby Bush would issue the veto threat as long as Frist agreed to collect the signatures of 35 senators agreeing to sustain the veto. Frist last week announced he had the signatures. It takes 67 of the body's 100 senators to overturn a veto.
But senators have defied the threat on a bipartisan basis with unchecked spending. On Tuesday, senators added another $1.7 billion for the Katrina cleanup — on top of the already-allotted $28.8 billion requested by the president.
Other pet projects in the Senate bill include $4 billion in aid to farmers to compensate for rising energy costs and drought and natural disaster relief, $800 million in highway funding, $1 billion in state grants and $1.1 billion for the Gulf Coast's seafood industry.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., put forward and the Senate passed an amendment adding $289 million to compensate first responders for complications that arise from taking an experimental flu vaccine. Another $7 million was added for water monitoring in Hawaii, which recently was hit by a torrential rainstorm. And $6 million was approved to aid Hawaiian sugar interests.
All this was added to a measure that contained $65.7 billion for war operations and $28.8 billion for hurricane relief, including grants to states to build and repair housing and $3.9 billion for levees and flood control projects in Louisiana. That last sum was offset in the bill by money that had been intended for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Anti-pork crusaders, Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona and John Ensign of Nevada, did win one victory — last Thursday they stripped out $15 million for a seafood marketing campaign intended for compensation from last year's red tide. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the legislation.
House leaders promise to take a hard line in upcoming talks with the Senate.
"The House will not take up an emergency supplemental spending bill for Katrina and the war in Iraq that spends one dollar more than what the president asks for. Period," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The upcoming House-Senate negotiations will test the determination and political strength — and ingenuity — of Gulf Coast Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
Cochran may face an uphill battle in trying to preserve controversial earmarks such as $700 million to relocate a freight line along the Mississippi coast further inland despite its being already rebuilt with insurance proceeds.
During action last week in the full Senate, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., succeeded in diverting $1.9 billion in Pentagon funds to border security needs such as new aircraft and patrol boats.
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.