WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans whisked a $388 billion spending bill through the House on Saturday, a mammoth measure that underscores the dominance of deficit politics by curbing dollars for everything from education to environmental cleanups.

Lawmakers approved the measure by a bipartisan 344-51 margin as their worked over the weekend during their postelection session.

Though not in doubt, passage was taking longer in the Senate. Senators who support abortion rights opposed a plan that would make it easier for health care providers to decline to provide abortions or offer counseling and referrals.

From its tight domestic spending to the Democratic-backed provisions on overtime and other issues that were dropped, the bill is a monument to the GOP’s raw power in controlling the White House and Congress.

The measure itself is an imposing monument: the bill and an explanatory report, completed near midnight Friday, were about 14 inches tall, leaving many lawmakers baffled about its precise contents.

Even President Bush’s initiatives were not immune to cuts as the bill’s GOP chief authors heeded his demands to control spending.

Gone was his request for development of new nuclear weapons. His budget for the AmeriCorps volunteer program was sliced by 12 percent. The $2.5 billion he wanted to aid countries adopting democratic practices was reduced by $1 billion.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we held the line and made Congress make choices and set priorities, because it follows our philosophy,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, during House debate.

Passage would crown the lame-duck session of Congress, which began Tuesday, and send lawmakers home until January.

Also enacted during the postelection session was an $800 billion increase in the government’s borrowing limit. The measure was yet another testament to record annual deficits, which reached $413 billion last year and are expected to climb indefinitely.

While the spending bill was one of the most austere in years, it had something for everybody, including thousands of home-district projects worth several billion dollars:

• $335,000 to protect sunflowers in North Dakota from blackbird damage.

• $60 million for a new courthouse in Las Cruces, N.M.

• $225,000 to study catfish genomes at Alabama’s Auburn University.

• a potential present for Bush himself, $2 million for the government to buy back the presidential yacht Sequoia. The boat was sold three decades ago.

Despite complaints the bill was too stingy, most Democrats supported it. They helped write it and included many projects for themselves. They knew that the alternative – holding spending to last year’s levels – would be $4 billion tighter.

“It is totally inadequate to meet the nation’s needs in education, health care and the environment,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. “It falls so far from meeting our investment obligations for the future that it could only be brought to the floor by the majority party after the election.”

The measure was a compendium of nine bills that Republicans found too contentious to complete before the Nov. 2 elections. The legislation covers almost every domestic agency and department, plus foreign aid.

The FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission and NASA got healthy increases. But education grew by less than 2 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency grew by 3.5 percent.

Overall, the nine bills the measure combined were just 2 percent larger than last year’s versions. When foreign aid and defense spending are omitted, the remaining domestic programs grew by around 1 percent.

To stay within the spending constraints Bush demanded, all programs in the bill eventually will be cut by at least 0.8 percent.

One of the last measures to pass Congress this year, the spending bill bore fruit for many industries while leaving other interests short.

There will be visas for 20,000 more skilled foreign workers for high technology businesses. Satellite television companies will be able to feed digital network programming to rural viewers.

Two labor-led efforts failed to make the cut. One would have blocked Bush administration rules on overtime pay. The second would have prevented the Internal Revenue Service from using private debt collectors to collect overdue taxes.

Efforts to extend some federal milk subsidies and repeal country-of-origin labels for many foods also failed. But included were new rules governing the recreational use of federal lands and federal small business programs.

A bridge near the Hoover Dam between Arizona and Nevada was named for Pat Tillman, the professional football player who died while serving in the military in Afghanistan.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., won a provision naming the oak tree as the national tree.

Congress is supposed to complete 13 spending bills financing federal agencies by the Oct. 1 start of each budget year. Four of those bills financing the military, homeland security and the District of Columbia were enacted earlier this year.

Since the government’s new budget year began Oct. 1, the covered agencies have run on temporary authority that was expiring Saturday night. The House passed another extension running through Dec. 3 to give White House officials time to review the bill before Bush signs it. Senate passage was expected.

AP-ES-11-20-04 1615EST



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