GOP Senators Push To Pass Spending Bill

Senate Republicans are cranking up pressure for swift passage of a long-overdue $328 billion government spending bill by warning wavering lawmakers that they could lose thousands of home-state projects and face a freeze on expenditures if they block passage of the measure.

Democrats, angry over GOP inclusion of controversial policy provisions, blocked passage of the measure just before Congress adjourned last year, and Republicans scheduled a showdown vote for Tuesday, the opening day of the new session. If Democrats continue to try to block the bill, 60 votes would be required for passage, and both sides say they expect it to be close.

The legislation is needed because Congress has not yet passed seven of its 13 appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It would fund most operations of government outside of military activities and homeland security, for which spending bills have been passed.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sent senators a letter last week listing home-state projects they would lose if the bill failed. And yesterday Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) warned colleagues in a letter that defeat would mean a loss of spending increases for many popular national programs.

“Attached you will find a list of projects that may be of particular interest to you,” Stevens wrote in what a senior GOP aide described as an unusual but not unprecedented move to remind senators of their personal political stake in passage of a bill.

One Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his senator’s list included more than 300 items spread over nine pages, including one as small as $25,000 for a youth center.

In his letter, Frist said defeat of the “omnibus” spending bill would give Congress no alternative but to continue funding of the government at current levels through September, wiping out proposed spending increases for a number of popular programs.

Although House members have threatened such a course, this was the first time Frist has described it as the only alternative to passage of the bill in its current form. “The time has come to pass this bill. . . . The alternative is stark,” he said.

Frist’s statement appeared to rule out efforts to rewrite the bill to accommodate Democratic objections to provisions dealing with overtime pay, media consolidation, and country-of-origin labeling for beef and other foods, although senators said talks are underway to resolve the labeling dispute.

Frist’s letter included a long list of new spending that would be lost if the bill fails, including $80 million for food safety, $423 million for FBI anti-terrorism activities, $3.1 billion for veterans’ medical care, $2.2 billion for highway construction, $2.4 billion for global efforts to combat AIDS and about $3 billion for education programs.

In all, the proposed bill includes a net increase of $6 billion from current spending, according to congressional aides.

Meanwhile, half a dozen conservative groups joined in opposing the bill as bloated and laden with pork. “This is a drunken-sailor budget, and it ought to be defeated,” said Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America. In addition to Weyrich’s group, the organizations included the American Conservative Union, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.