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Congress Approves Disaster Relief Bill

But Clinton says added amendments will force a veto

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 5) -- The Senate and House have approved an $8.5 billion emergency spending bill including aid for the flood-ravaged Dakotas and Minnesota. But the highly politicized package also contains two controversial amendments which President Bill Clinton has said will force a veto.

In the Senate the bill passed 67-31. The House vote of 220-201 broke down more on party lines than in the other chamber. The legislation will not reach the president's desk until Friday.

Despite the urgency of providing relief for flood victims, many of whom are still homeless, the measure has been caught up in a long political brawl between Congress and the White House. The stalemate was generated by two unrelated amendments attached to the bill by Republicans who know disaster aid would be difficult for the president to reject.

The first would avoid government shutdowns during budget showdowns, like the one in 1995 which proved a political disaster for the GOP. A second amendment bars a particular population-counting method that Republicans fear would cost them seats in the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

The president has pledged to veto any legislation that includes added "contentious and extraneous provisions."

"I urge the Republican leadership to set politics aside and pass a clean disaster assistance bill," Clinton wrote. "If the Republican majority is set on this course of adding contentious and extraneous provisions ... I will veto it as soon as it arrives, and send it back so they can send me a clean disaster assistance bill immediately that keeps aid flowing to those in need. Americans in need should not have to endure this unnecessary delay."

Following the vote, House Speaker Newt Gingrich challenged the president to explain a veto to flood victims. "The president should explain to the people of the Dakotas and the people who he visited, who he promised he would set aside politics to help, why he's breaking his word," Gingrich said at a photo opportunity organized by the Republican leadership.

"He gave his word he would sign the emergency aid bill and put politics to one side, I think he should keep his word, and sign the bill," Gingrich continued.

A power struggle broke out in the Senate Wednesday afternoon when Democrats threatened to stage an all-night filibuster to highlight the fact that the Republican-controlled Congress had not yet passed disaster aid for flood-ravaged states.

Rather than face hours of Republican-bashing by Democrats, Lott moved to recess the Senate. With a 55-45 Republican majority, Lott prevailed on a motion to adjourn until Thursday with a 53-44 vote.

CNN's Candy Crowley and Anne Curley contributed to this report.