Congress overwhelmingly approved a compromise $28.9-billion antiterrorism bill on Wednesday after a four-month struggle with President Bush over how much the latest response to the Sept. 11 attacks should cost.
The Senate debated less than a half-hour before voting 92-7 to endorse the package, which provides money for the Pentagon, rebuilding New York, better FBI computers and improved food inspections. The House signed off on the measure by 397-32 on Tuesday.
Though the votes were one-sided and Bush was expected to sign the bill, its development was anything but smooth. Bush proposed a $27.1-billion package in March, but lawmakers from both parties were crafting a final bill exceeding $30-billion until they were coaxed downward by veto warnings from White House officials.
"We all know where the holes are in our protections," said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who had repeatedly accused Bush of spending too little for domestic security. "If we know where those holes are, then surely terrorists know, don't you think?"
The legislation is the second major infusion of cash to combat terrorism that Bush and Congress have provided since the attacks. They approved an initial $40-billion right away.
"We are pleased that the level came down to what the president requested," said White House budget office spokeswoman Amy Call.
The money is for the waning weeks of the federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, though most of it won't be spent until later. While Bush succeeded in holding the price down, its cost was still huge compared with the midyear budget bills Congress usually passes.
In a measure of the consensus for battling terrorism, no lawmaker mentioned that the bill's cost will drive federal deficits even deeper and erode surpluses generated by Social Security, which politicians of both parties had pledged to avoid until recently.
The bill allows Bush to refuse to spend $5.1-billion of its total, a decision he must make in 30 days. But they made it hard for him to cut that money by requiring that he spend all or none of it, and by including popular programs like airport and port security, fighting AIDS abroad and helping states revamp their election systems.
Administration officials are unhappy with the provision because it prevents Bush from making decisions about programs individually.
No senator spoke against the bill Wednesday. But Pennsylvania's two GOP senators, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, opposed it because it dropped House-approved provisions boosting Medicare reimbursements for some rural hospitals in their state. Florida Democratic Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson voted in favor of the bill.
Though the bill's focus was terrorism, it bore funds for other purposes as well. It included $1-billion for Pell grants for low-income students; $417-million for veterans' medical care; $205-million for the Amtrak bailout; and $100-million for countering Western wildfires and floods.
Defense spending half of antiterror package
Congress sent President Bush a $28.9-billion counterterrorism package on Wednesday. Here are the spending highlights in billions of dollars unless otherwise noted.
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