Senate breaks logjam over defense spending plan

After a week of partisan wrangling over supplemental spending on the fiscal 2002 Defense appropriations bill, the Senate was poised Friday afternoon to break the logjam, after Republicans defeated a measure proposed by Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., on a budget point of order.

That again demonstrated Democrats lacked the 60 votes to add another $15 billion to the $317 billion Defense spending bill. The measure also is carrying $20 billion in previously approved supplemental funds.

After the vote, Byrd huddled with Democratic leaders, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D- Hawaii, and Appropriations ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to draft a new version of the bill that stays within the President's price tag. That bill was expected to be submitted later today.

Earlier today, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., conceded, "We have to face reality here." Majority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the slimmed-down version of the bill "will come up, we just don't know when," but Senate sources were hopeful that a final, signable bill would fall into place by day's end.

Asked whether Byrd was now willing to relent in his quest to pump up the $20 billion supplemental title by another $15 billion, Reid said, "He's fine."

Republicans had planned to offer a substitute by Stevens that dropped Byrd's extra $15 billion and reshuffled the $20 billion anti-terrorism supplemental title to include some of Byrd's priorities.

But instead, Republicans ratcheted up the pressure and took aim at the entire bill. Saying, "Often to get on the right road, you have to get off the wrong road," Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, today raised a budget point of order against the committee measure for violating the so-called "302(b)" allocation for the Defense bill.

On a 50-50 vote, Democrats failed to muster the 60 votes to waive the point of order, as Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin again was the only Democrat to cross party lines.

Byrd had sought to add a second supplemental title of $15 billion, which would have provided $7.5 billion in further homeland security funds and $7.5 billion in additional aid for New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where the four planes hijacked Sept. 11 crashed. Republicans Thursday stripped the emergency designation from the $15 billion but left the money in place.

Imploring Republican senators to vote their conscience and not the party line dictated by the President before today's decisive vote, Byrd declared: "I do believe in this constitutional oath, and I am not appointed by any President... No President will tell me how to vote [and] that ought to be the attitude of every senator."

Little information was available early Friday afternoon about how Democrats will reconstitute the $20 billion supplemental title, although Daschle said, "Our amendment will be similar [to what Stevens had offered Thursday], but improved."

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