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Daschle: Senate will OK spending bill

The Senate probably will approve a  $373 billion spending bill, despite Democratic demands to cut language that would postpone food labeling requirements, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Senate probably will approve a long-overdue $373 billion spending bill by next week, despite Democratic demands to eliminate language that would postpone food labeling requirements, the chamber’s top Democrat said Tuesday.

Both parties said they expected the Republican-led Senate to fall short Tuesday in a bid to end procedural delays against the legislation. But with aides saying Democrats probably lacked the votes to stall the bill much longer, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the bill would pass in the next few days regardless of whether that issue and others were dealt with.

“Our desire is not to kill the bill. Our desire is to give them a chance to fix it,” Daschle told reporters before the vote.

Daschle said if GOP leaders don’t drop offending provisions from the measure, which Republicans said they would not do, Democrats would use other bills to bring attention to the issues.

Tuesday’s vote was the first of Congress’ election-year session. The House approved the legislation in December.

Food labels at issue
Democrats and some Republicans are unhappy that the measure would delay country-of-origin labels on foods for two years, allow an administration move to reduce the number of white-collar workers eligible for overtime pay and ease limits on the number of television stations a company can own.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist promised to push ahead with the legislation without changes. He did not rule out that the dispute over origin labels might be addressed in separate, later legislation.

Despite that fight, which has intensified since tests showed a Holstein in Washington state had mad cow disease, Frist predicted the massive bill eventually would be sent to President Bush intact because of its increases in spending on programs for veterans and other popular programs.

“I think there is enough momentum behind it to pass it as it is,” Frist, R-Tenn., told reporters just hours before a Senate showdown vote on whether to end delaying tactics against the spending measure. “The timing? I don’t know,” he said.

Senate still making changes
The Senate was revisiting the bill, which stalled last fall, just hours before Bush was to deliver his State of the Union address. GOP aides said the Senate might vote again on the issue later this week.

Eager to get the long-running issue off the Senate’s plate, top Republicans were pointedly reminding colleagues that the bill, which combines seven spending measures into one, contained thousands of home-state projects.

Republican leaders also were threatening that failure would mean a pared-down version would take the bill’s place — $6 billion smaller and shorn of lawmakers’ projects and increases for popular programs.

But, if anything, the odds of Senate passage have grown bleaker since the House approved the measure in December. The discovery of a Holstein cow with mad cow disease in Washington state has intensified anger over a provision in the bill that would delay country-of-origin labels on foods. Democrats also are upset about overtime pay and other provisions of the bill, and conservatives say the measure is too expensive.

Making distinctions
And with the presidential campaign season well under way, both parties are eager to draw distinctions with each other, rather than settle differences.

Overall, the bill contains 7,932 home-district projects costing $10.7 billion, according to a count by the conservative group Taxpayers for Common Sense. It covers the budgets of 11 Cabinet departments and dozens of other agencies. Among the agencies whose budgets have already been enacted into law are the Defense and the Homeland Security departments.

Meanwhile, the programs covered by the omnibus bill have been operating at last year’s spending levels.

The bill would finance nearly every domestic agency — plus foreign aid and the District of Columbia’s municipal government — in the federal budget year that started last Oct. 1. It includes increases over last year for veterans health care, education and fighting AIDS overseas, plus thousands of road, park and other home-district projects for lawmakers.