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US Senate defies Bush over spending bill

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 27 (Reuters) A deeply-divided US Senate refused to prune an emergency spending bill to finance the war in Iraq and hurricane rebuilding, defying a veto threat from President George W Bush.

On a series of votes, the Republican-controlled Senate backed a 106.5 billion dollar measure that also contains several projects not directly related to war or hurricanes. Some conservatives want to kill those projects.

The White House on Tuesday said Bush would veto any bill that spends more than 94.5 billion dollar.

But with several more days of Senate debate expected, the size and shape of the huge package was still uncertain.

By a vote of 49-48, the Senate quashed an attempt by some Republicans to delete 700 million dollar from the bill that would be used to relocate a CSX railroad line in Mississippi.

On two other procedural votes, the Senate overwhelmingly defeated moves to cut spending on the emergency bill to the ceiling proposed by Bush. The US House of Representatives has already passed a package conforming to Bush's wishes.

But there were signs the 106.5 billion dollar bill could also face trouble, as conservative Republicans try to slow the runup in federal debt, which has grown by 3 trillion dollar in five years.

Thirty-five Republican senators signed a letter to Bush on Wednesday saying they would support a presidential veto of any bill that spends more than the 94.5 billion dollar he requested.

''We may be seeing the beginning of the reversal of a trend'' that brought deficit-spending on special-interest projects, said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and possible 2008 presidential candidate, who signed the letter.

If the 35 senators held firm, they would be able to sustain a Bush veto, which would be the first of his presidency.

Bush has requested about 67 billion dollar for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and around 20 billion dollar for Gulf Coast hurricane rebuilding.

Emergency spending bills over the past few years have often become magnets for non-emergency projects as lawmakwers have sought to attach their own pet programs to them.

On Tuesday, the White House said Bush would veto anything that exceeds his spending request, which the Pentagon says it needs to finance military operations this year.

''The president was clear that we must hold the line on spending and he appreciates the support of those Republicans in the Senate who have today pledged to do just that,'' said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius.

As currently written, the Senate measure also gives new federal disaster aid to farmers and spends money on military programs that critics argue are not essential to the war.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican whose state was hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina, challenged the White House and its veto threat.

''Do we want to ignore ... the needs that are clear and important and serious that are addressed by the funding in this legislation?'' Cochran said.

Even if the Senate passes a much larger spending bill, it could be downsized by House-Senate negotiators before being sent to Bush for his signature or veto.


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