Senate Approves Disaster Relief Bill

Congress sent President Bush a $14.5 billion disaster bill yesterday designed to help hurricane victims and producers of everything from cotton to clams harmed by drought, flooding and other emergencies.

The election-season package was attached to a $10 billion military construction bill and approved by the Senate by voice vote. The House gave it initial approval on Saturday by 374 to 0.

Most of the aid -- $11.6 billion -- was to help Florida and other East Coast states rebuild from hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan, which roared through during a six-week period in August and September. Congress last month approved an initial $2 billion request from President Bush.

The bill's remaining $2.9 billion was for farmers and ranchers hurt by drought and other natural disasters.

Some funds were destined for pivotal states such as South Dakota, where Senate Democratic Leader Thomas A. Daschle faces a tough reelection fight, and Ohio, which Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry each wants to win on Election Day.

Tucked into the bill is $9 million for the government to restore oyster reefs off the coasts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi that were damaged by the hurricanes. There is $10 million for timber producers and $8.5 million for pecan growers.

Unspecified sums are provided for producers of cotton, peanuts, tobacco, clams, hay, sod, shrimp and lobsters.

Bush Camp Accuses AFL-CIO of Vandalism

The Bush-Cheney campaign accused the AFL-CIO of acts of vandalism at a handful of its offices around the country -- an allegation the labor federation denied.

In a letter to the president of the AFL-CIO, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot cited injuries and damages at an office in Orlando and disruptions in Michigan. Racicot said the labor protests came after incidents at other offices in Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.

"I hope you will put an end to protest activities that have led to injuries, property damage, vandalism and voter intimidation," Racicot wrote to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "We will hold you and your organization accountable for the actions of your members and urge you to immediately discontinue any coordinated protest efforts."

Denise Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, called the charges politically motivated.

"This is really irresponsible and just the height of nasty politics," Mitchell said. She added that the allegations came on a day when the Republicans knew the AFL-CIO offices would be closed -- Columbus Day.

Racicot said Oct. 5 had been a day of protests against the Bush campaign. That was the day that AFL-CIO members protested the administration's new overtime regulations.

AFL-CIO members delivered postcards and petitions against the overtime pay cuts, Mitchell said, and Racicot is using that to imply a coordinated effort to vandalize campaign offices.

-- From News Services