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Specter's promises (in writing) get committee support

By Associated Press
Published November 19, 2004

WASHINGTON - Arlen Specter on Thursday won the backing of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to be their chairman, surviving complaints from abortion opponents after submitting a statement underscoring his support for Bush judicial nominees.

"I have assured the president that I would give his nominees quick committee hearings and early committee votes," Specter said at a news conference during which outgoing Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the panel's Republicans were unanimous in backing the Pennsylvania moderate.

The nine Judiciary Republicans agreed they would stand behind Specter in January's vote for chairman despite his statement after this month's elections that anti-abortion judges would have a difficult time gaining Senate confirmation, given Democratic opposition.

That comment infuriated abortion opponents, and Senate conservatives - during meetings arranged by GOP leadership - subjected Specter to questions on his views and intentions.

Antiabortion activists said they were disappointed that Senate Republicans did not block Specter.

"However, he will assume his new position on a very short leash," said James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian lobbying group Focus on the Family.

Specter said Thursday, "I have no reason to believe that I'll be unable to support any individual President Bush finds worthy" of the federal bench.

He read from a statement he had written that was cleared by committee members and the GOP leadership. Specter repeated the guarantees he had made over the previous two weeks - that he did not have a litmus test on abortion rights for judges and that he would give Bush's nominees quick hearings and push for their confirmation.

Specter also promised that he would fight possible Democratic filibusters and would not block legislation or a constitutional amendment in committee, "even one which I personally opposed."

Big borrowing increase nearly ready for Bush

WASHINGTON - Democrats accused Republicans of disastrous economic policies as Congress moved Thursday toward shipping President Bush an $800-billion increase in the federal borrowing limit.

The House prepared to vote final approval for the boost as White House and bipartisan congressional bargainers neared agreement on a year-end spending package expected to total $388-billion. Negotiators said a handful of issues remained unresolved, and a package might be ready for votes by late tonight.

With the government facing imminent default because it has depleted its authority to borrow money, the debt limit bill would pump up its borrowing cap to $8.18-trillion. That is 70 percent the size of the U.S. economy.

"Our great-great-great-great-grandkids are going to pay it back with interest, to China and the others who are financing our government and our spendthrift ways," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., argued during House debate.

Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., countered: "We can demagogue it. We can keep putting on all sorts of messages to feel good or draw political lines. ... But the reality is, we keep screwing around with this thing, we're going to shut the government down."

Lawmakers hope to end their postelection session, which began Tuesday, by passing both the spending and debt-limit measures and possibly an intelligence agency overhaul by this weekend.

Negotiators spent Thursday clearing away final disputes on the massive spending bill. They agreed to $577-million, the same as last year, to continue developing a nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, one lawmaker said.

Remaining problems included an effort by some legislators to curb Bush's plan to contract out federal jobs to private businesses, as well as a plan to pay for some of the bill's increases by cutting unspent defense funds.

The bill would grant increases to priorities like veterans' health care and the FBI, and likely will have many home-district projects.

The government reached the $7.38-trillion cap last month, paying its bills since with investments from a civil service retirement account, which it plans to repay.

Democrats blame Bush's tax cuts and a GOP refusal to require budget savings to pay for tax reductions or spending increases.

[Last modified November 18, 2004, 23:59:17]

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