Showdown over must-pass spending bill on the horizon
White House renews veto threat of $109B spending bill
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate approved nearly $109 billion in additional war and hurricane relief money Thursday despite a White House threat to veto the bill over what it called "unnecessary spending."
The bill passed 78-20 and now goes to a conference committee, where negotiators will try to reconcile the measure with a $92 billion version the House of Representatives passed in March.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, said he hopes to have a compromise bill sent to President Bush for his signature by Memorial Day, May 29.
The bill devotes nearly $71 billion to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of that will go to Iraq, where the three-year-old conflict costs the Pentagon more than $1 billion a week.
The supplemental appropriation would bring the total cost of those conflicts to nearly $400 billion, and White House officials have said that Bush plans to seek another $50 billion in war spending in his 2007 budget.
Funds for Katrina relief, levees
Another $28 billion-plus would go to Gulf Coast relief projects, including $4 billion for levee repair and flood-control efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,500 people in Louisiana and Mississippi. That money would come on top of more than $87 billion appropriated for reconstruction efforts since the August 29 storm.
But it also includes additional items, such as $3.9 billion for farm programs and $700 million to let Mississippi relocate a railroad line heavily damaged by Katrina -- a provision backed by Mississippi's two powerful Republican senators, Cochran and Sen. Trent Lott.
Critics attacked the provisions as pork-barrel spending. The White House and Bush's allies among the Republican leadership of Congress have promised to oppose the extra spending.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, led an effort to trim some of the extra spending from the bill, but was rebuffed after taking on some of the Senate's most powerful members.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he won't consider any bill "that spends one dollar more than what the president has asked for -- period."
And the White House, which requested about $90 billion for hurricane relief and war spending earlier this year, repeated Bush's threat to veto the spending bill unless lawmakers trim it to about $105 billion. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday the bill is "a test on spending restraint."
"We urge the conference committee to resolve those differences quickly -- get a bill back that meets what the president called for in terms of support for our troops and the Gulf Coast, and then not including unnecessary spending -- and then get that to the president's desk quickly, because our troops need these resources," McClellan said.
Bush has yet to veto any bill in his five-plus years in office. But he said Wednesday that if Congress spent more than $92 billion, plus another $2.6 billion for preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic, he would veto this measure.
CNN's Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
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