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Senate sends Bush spending bill

By wire services
Published January 23, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Senate overcame Democratic delaying tactics Thursday and sent President Bush an overdue $373-billion bill financing a vast swath of government and bearing a bushel of victories for the White House.

Senators approved the measure 65-28 a month after House passage. Florida Democratic Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson split on the issue, with Nelson voting yes and Graham voting no.

The bill finances agriculture, veterans and most other domestic programs for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

A brief look at the bill:

PRICE TAG: $373-billion for spending that Congress must approve annually, including $45-billion for highway and other transportation programs that comes from gasoline and other transportation taxes. Formally permits government to spend an additional $447-billion, beyond the $373-billion, for Medicare, Medicaid and other automatically paid benefits. Money is for budget year that began Oct. 1.

AGENCIES COVERED: Health and Human Services, Commerce and nine other Cabinet departments, plus the Environmental Protection Agency, AmeriCorps national service program and scores of other agencies. Also covers foreign aid, District of Columbia local government. Budgets for the Defense and Homeland Security departments, several other agencies and Congress' expenditures already enacted.

EARMARKS: 7,932 costing $10.7-billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, which favors lower federal spending. These include $9-million for a light rail system in San Francisco, home district of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS: The bill provides $14-million for nation's first federally financed school vouchers for low-income students in the District of Columbia. The plan would award private-school vouchers to at least 1,700 poor students in the district. President Bush views choice as integral to public school reform and has proposed $50-million more for voucher programs in the next budget year.

OVERTIME FIGHT: The bill drops language blocking the Bush administration from letting companies pay overtime to fewer white collar workers.

OTHER POLICY BATTLES: The bill lets companies own television stations serving 39 percent of nation's viewers, up from 35 percent; postpones for two years required country of origin labels on beef and other foods sold at stores. Also truncates time FBI must keep records of gun purchase applicants from 90 days to one; eliminates provisions that would have eased travel and trade restrictions with Cuba; lets Bush proceed with plan to farm some federal work to private contractors.

Breakdown of bill's disbursements

Agriculture Department's food safety, animal and plant inspectors up 4 percent from last year to $1.5-billion.

FBI up 9 percent to $4.6-billion.

$2.4-billion to combat AIDS in poor African and Caribbean countries, up 47 percent.

$1-billion for Millennium Challenge Account, President Bush's aid program for countries moving toward free institutions, a new program.

$28-billion for National Institutes of Health biomedical research, up 4 percent.

$56-billion for Education Department, up 5 percent.

Amtrak, $1.2-billion, up nearly 20 percent.

$28.6-billion for veterans health care, up 11 percent.

Environmental Protection Agency, $8.4-billion, up 4 percent.

NASA, $15.5-billion, up 0.5 percent.

Salaries: Members of Congress get a 2.2 percent increase over last year to $158,100. Federal civil servants get 4.1 percent raises.

[Last modified January 23, 2004, 01:32:51]

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