WASHINGTON - The Senate last night passed a $555 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, shortly after bowing to President Bush's demand for $70 billion in unrestricted funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats had vowed only weeks ago to withhold any Iraq-specific money unless strict timelines for troop withdrawal were established, but they instead chose, on a 70-to-25 vote, to remove what appeared to be the final obstacle to sending the spending bill to the White House, where Bush has indicated he will sign it. Senators then passed the omnibus bill, 76 to 17.
The House must still approve the revised spending bill, but Democrats there say the measure is likely to pass behind strong Republican support. A vote is expected today.
Senate leaders also fell short on finding a way to pay for changes to the alternative minimum tax. The chamber had already passed a measure to keep 23 million households, most of them upper-middle income, from being hit with the tax next year. Many House Democrats sought to offset the loss of $50 billion to the Treasury from the tax "patch," and so senior Democrats offered up a series of tax increases to cover the cost.
Republicans and some Democrats held firm against any tax increase, though, and the proposal, on a 48-to-46 vote, fell far short of the 60 votes needed to pass. The House now appears ready to pass the alternative minimum tax measure without any offset.
Also, senators approved both a six-month delay in a scheduled 10 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients and a temporary extension of a children's health insurance program.
With last night's flurry of activity after days of internal battles on their endgame strategy, Democrats hope to wrap up their first year in power on both sides of the Capitol since 1994. With Iraq war funding dominating debate and overshadowing other achievements, Bush could claim another victory over rivals who took power on an antiwar platform.