For the second straight day, Senate Republicans easily defeated Democratic efforts yesterday to beef up domestic programs in a huge spending package that is tailored to strict limits laid down by President Bush.
On a 52 to 46 vote, the newly installed GOP majority -- joined by Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (Ga.) -- turned back an attempt to restore $11.3 billion to departmental budgets for the fiscal year that will end Sept. 30. By the same margin, the GOP united to block the proposed addition of $500 million in federal aid to local law enforcement agencies.
Democrats complained bitterly that GOP-mandated across-the-board cuts would eliminate enough funding to pay for 1,175 FBI agents, 1,600 Customs Service inspectors and nutritional services for 224,000 women and children. At the same time, Democrats continued accusing Republicans of shortchanging homeland defense and education while pushing a sizable tax cut for the wealthy.
In a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was "baffled" by the reduction in allocations for the FBI "at a critical time for our national security," and he asked how the FBI would absorb the cuts.
Spending levels for the FBI are set at $3.9 billion in the GOP package, less than the $4.2 billion provided in 2002. Under an additional 2.9 percent cut in all domestic programs approved by the GOP this week, the FBI would lose an additional $113 million, according to a Schumer aide.
But a bristling Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) denied that any FBI agents would be fired, and defended the GOP plans. He said he would delete from the bill thousands of local projects included at the request of senators "before I'm accused of cutting the FBI or the milk of babies."
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) dared Stevens to make good on the threat. "Those add-ons are for the people we represent -- for the people in our hometowns," Byrd said.
The flare-up came in the second day of debate on a spending package that includes about $390 billion in domestic discretionary spending and foreign aid, along with another $31.8 billion for highway construction. In addition to funding government departments and agencies, it finances thousands of far-flung federal activities, including research on subjects from African orangutans to ovarian cancer, NASA missions to deep space, and patrol boats for Malta's efforts to waylay terrorists and drug traffickers in the Mediterranean.
Although there has been heated debate on spending for homeland defense, education, Amtrak subsidies and drought relief for farmers, Republicans are continuing to fund thousands of activities at or above the level of previous years. The bill, for example, includes $791 million for the global fight against HIV/AIDS, and foreign aid accounts that help children have been increased. About $10 million is recommended to help those fleeing North Korea.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget would grow by $218 million. The budget for the National Gallery of Art would be increased, and money for Indian health facilities would remain at about the 2002 level.
On Thursday, Republicans pushed through an additional $5 billion in federal education aid in the form of block grants to states. The addition would boost federal education spending this year by 10 percent above the 2002 level.
But the increase was offset by blanket cuts in every other domestic program. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said it was far from certain that these blanket reductions could be sustained when House and Senate negotiators meet to resolve their differences.
Meanwhile, Democrats yesterday were preparing to advance a new set of amendments next week that they hope will prove popular. These would add money for drought relief, education and job training.