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Senate Democrats close to backing down over anti-terrorism funds

By Dana Bash
CNN Washingon Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a win for President Bush, Senate Democrats appeared on the verge of backing down Friday from their quest to add an extra $15 billion for homeland defense and aid to New York.

Bush had promised to veto the additional funding, and Republicans demonstrated they had the votes to back him. That prompted the Democrats to ease off, senior Democratic leadership aides said Friday evening.

Led by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, Democrats spent the week defying the president's veto threat. That set up a showdown with Republicans over the need for immediate extra money for areas such as border security, bioterrorism prevention, law enforcement, and port, airport and nuclear-facility security.

Byrd, backed by his Democratic colleagues, argued all week that the extra money is necessary to protect Americans at home.

"It is arrogant on the part of the administration," Byrd said on the Senate floor. "We think there is danger now."

But the administration said the $40 billion in emergency funding allocated after the September 11 attacks is sufficient for now. It promised to request additional money in the spring once security needs are clearer.

After Republicans won a procedural motion Friday afternoon that stripped Byrd's extra $15 billion from the underlying defense spending bill, the Democratic leadership prepared to relent. Byrd is working on a new package capped at $20 billion that Bush would sign.

The battle between Senate Democrats and the White House over more antiterrorism money jeopardized the $318 billion defense bill, a political hot potato when U.S. troops are deployed in Afghanistan and polls show the vast majority of Americans support the president.

Republicans argued that Bush and congressional leaders had agreed to an overall $686 billion government spending figure for fiscal year 2002. The extra money Democrats were pushing would violate that agreement, they said.

Byrd argued the additional money would have been designated as "emergency," so Bush would have had the option not to spend it if he did not find it necessary

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, called the move a "political scheme."

"This is to try to get you to cast tough votes ... in order to get the defense bill," Lott said. "That was the wrong thing to do and I think the strategy backfired on the Democrats."


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