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$388b spending bill OK'd

Republican-led House, Senate rein in domestic plans

WASHINGTON -- Republicans whisked a $388 billion spending bill through Congress yesterday, a mammoth measure that underscores the dominance of deficit politics by curbing dollars for everything from education to environmental cleanups.

The House approved the measure by a bipartisan margin, 344 to 51, while Senate passage was by 65 to 30.

Senate approval took longer because of disputes over provisions dealing with abortions and access to income tax returns by members of Congress. Leaders agreed not to send the spending package to President Bush for his signature until later this month, when they expect the tax-returns issue to be resolved in a separate bill.

From its tight domestic spending to the Democrat-backed provisions on overtime and other issues that were dropped, the bill is a monument to the GOP's raw power controlling the White House and Congress. An imposing monument, too: The bill and explanatory report, completed near midnight Friday, were about 14 inches thick, leaving many legislators baffled about its precise contents.

''I'm very proud . . . we held the line and made Congress make choices and set priorities because it follows our philosophy," majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, said in House debate.

Even Bush's initiatives were not immune to cuts as the bill's GOP chief authors heeded his demands to control spending. His request for development of new nuclear weapons was rejected; his budget for the AmeriCorps volunteer program was sliced by 12 percent; and the $2.5 billion he wanted to aid countries adopting democratic practices was slashed by $1 billion.

Passage would crown the lame-duck session of Congress, which began Tuesday. Legislators hoped to leave town for the year last night, but Senate delays on the spending bill and the collapse of bargaining over a measure reorganizing US intelligence agencies left timing in doubt.

Also enacted during the postelection session was an $800 billion increase in the government's borrowing limit. The measure was yet another testament to record annual deficits, which reached $413 billion last year and are expected to climb indefinitely.

While the spending bill was among the most austere in years, it had something for everybody, including thousands of home-district projects worth several billion dollars:

$335,000 to protect sunflowers in North Dakota from blackbird damage.

$60 million for a new courthouse in Las Cruces, N.M.

$225,000 to study catfish genomes at Auburn University.

$2 million for the government to try buying back the presidential yacht Sequoia. The boat was sold three decades ago, and its current owners say the yacht is not for sale.

Despite protests that the bill was stingy, most Democrats supported it. They included many projects for themselves. They knew that the alternative -- holding spending to last year's levels -- would be $4 billion tighter.

''It is totally inadequate to meet the nation's needs in education, health care, and the environment," said Representative David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin. ''It falls so far from meeting our investment obligations for the future that it could only be brought to the floor by the majority party after the election."

The measure was a compendium of nine bills that Republicans found too contentious to complete before the Nov. 2 elections. Overall, the nine bills were 2 percent larger than last year's versions. When foreign aid and defense spending are omitted, the remaining domestic programs grew by about 1 percent. To stay within the spending constraints Bush demanded, all programs in the bill eventually will be cut by at least 0.8 percent.

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