Friday, January 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Overdue spending bill wins approval in Senate

Washington projects

Highlights of the more than $370 million in funding earmarked for Washington state in the $373 billion omnibus spending bill:

Sound Transit:

$75 million for first phase of 14-mile light-rail line from Seattle to Tukwila.

Sea-Tac airport:

$11.28 million for development of third runway, new traffic-control tower and TRACON safety system.

Other transportation:

$158 million for projects across the state.

Seattle Art Museum:

$500,000 for a sculpture garden in Belltown.

A detailed list of transportation projects can be found at
(164K PDF)

— The Seattle Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate yesterday approved a long-overdue $373 billion bill to fund most federal agencies after Democrats abandoned a fight over overtime pay, food labeling and other contentious issues that had held up the legislation.

The huge catchall measure, passed 65-28, goes to President Bush, who plans to sign it soon, according to Republicans. The legislation provides a $6 billion increase over current funding, including more money for health and school programs, a 4.1 percent raise for federal workers and $2.4 billion to combat the global spread of AIDS, all of which could have been wiped out if the impasse had continued.

Also included were nearly 8,000 home-state projects, at a cost of $10.7 billion. Among them: $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa; $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and $200,000 for the First Tee program in St. Augustine, Fla..

Washington state was the beneficiary of projects totaling $370 million, including $245 million for transportation, according to Sen. Patty Murray.

Murray and fellow Sen. Maria Cantwell were among 21 Democrats who voted for the bill.

"Today, many of my colleagues expressed their anger and disappointment with the real-life consequences of the administration's politics on the issues of overtime, food safety and quality public education by voting to delay the omnibus spending bill," Murray said in a statement. "I share the outrage of my colleagues on these issues, but I know what's at stake in this bill."

The 1,182-page bill will finance 11 government departments, the District of Columbia and foreign aid for the fiscal year that began in October. It also allows the Bush administration to relax overtime rules for many white-collar workers and to delay for two years a requirement that meat and other food be labeled to identify its country of origin. It would permit media conglomerates to buy local television stations reaching up to 39 percent of the national audience, less than the 45 percent favored by the administration but more than the current 35 percent.

Other provisions would provide taxpayer-financed vouchers to help poor children in the District of Columbia attend private schools, ease reporting requirements for gun purchases and continue the ban on travel to Cuba.

These policy controversies had threatened to derail the bill, which passed the House in December, only to have Democrats block it in the Senate in hopes of forcing concessions from the administration and GOP congressional leaders.

Democrats were especially angry over the overtime-rule change, which both houses had gone on record as opposing. Republican leaders argued it was needed to reflect modern workplace needs and practices, while Democrats denounced it as a sop to businesses that could cost up to 8 million workers a right to overtime pay that has existed since the 1930s.

Democrats continued to block the spending bill on a procedural vote when Congress reconvened Tuesday but conceded they could not sustain a filibuster.

Congress missed its appropriations deadline for the second year in a row. Republicans last year blamed the Democrats then in the majority and were embarrassed this year when they did only somewhat better by passing the bill in January rather than February. But they won by hanging tough on issues that were priorities for the White House or GOP congressional leaders, sidelining several politically difficult disputes.

"The country demands that we complete action on this bill," said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., condemned what he said was the administration's take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

"This is one senator who's going to leave it because of what it will do to working families and women and veterans of this country," he said.

The way for passage of the bill was cleared when, on another procedural vote, 16 Democrats, including Murray, joined most Republicans in a 61-32 vote — one vote more than the 60 needed — to end the stalling tactics and force a final vote.

Compiled from The Washington Post, The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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