Senate clears Defense, Homeland Security spending bills

Chamber gives quick approval to $445.4 billion Pentagon bill and $30.8 billion Homeland Security measure.

The Senate Friday cleared out more of its appropriations backlog, passing the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill, as well as the Homeland Security spending conference agreement.

After an overnight delay, the chamber reconvened Friday morning to overwhelmingly pass the $445.4 billion Defense bill, 97-0. The bill includes $390.2 billion in base military funding, with an additional $50 billion in emergency reserve funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On top of that, senators added more than $5 billion in emergency funding, including nearly $4 billion to prevent an outbreak of the deadly avian flu and another $1.3 billion for National Guard equipment.

The Senate also approved, by voice vote, the $30.8 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she objected to a unanimous-consent vote on the measure because it included a provision allowing the Homeland Security secretary to dole out the majority of the funding for first responders on the basis of risk and vulnerability.

Collins said she would continue to push her own legislation that would require the secretary to consolidate three different pots of grant funding for first responders and give each state a guaranteed percentage of all the money before allocating the remaining funding on the basis of risk. Under the appropriations bill, the minimum guarantee for each state applies to only one grant program.

Collins argued that the House-Senate conference report did not include adequate funding for first responders. The bill provides $3.3 billion for first responders next year -- $600 million less than last year. The House passed the bill Thursday night.