Senators hope to complete 2003 spending package by Thursday

The Senate continued to trudge forward on the $390 billion fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill Wednesday, as senators began to aim for completing the bill by Thursday evening.

Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., speaking on the floor Wednesday, urged Democrats and Republicans to limit the number of amendments to the bill and to push for time agreements to expedite its passage. "I'm very hopeful we can finish this bill by tomorrow night," Daschle said.

Earlier Wednesday, Republicans beat back a Democratic amendment challenging the Bush administration's new clean air rule, which would loosen emissions restrictions on power plants. The Senate, by a 50-46 vote, defeated the amendment by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., that would have delayed the new rule by six months while the National Academy of Sciences studied the rule's health effects. Instead, the Senate approved, 51-45, a substitute by Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., that would allow the study to go forward but not delay the rule's implementation.

A Daschle amendment-doubling the amount of drought aid in the bill to $6 billion-will be the main attraction during Wednesday afternoon's debate. Republicans have already moved to include $3 billion in drought aid, paid for with across-the-board cuts.

Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will propose another amendment to rewrite how the drought aid is distributed. An Agriculture Committee aide said the Cochran amendment would expedite the distribution of the $3 billion to farmers in already designated drought areas as well as those who qualify in neighboring counties. The aide said Daschle's proposal would take longer-eight or nine months-to reach farmers than the Cochran plan. But a Democratic aide criticized the GOP plan because all farmers in so-called disaster counties would get payments regardless of their personal situations.

Other amendments that could see votes Wednesday include one offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., boosting special education by $1.5 billion, and a substitute by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would also add $1.5 billion for special education but pay for it with an across-the-board reduction. The Senate could also vote on amendments by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., adding $180 million for the fight against AIDS in Africa; Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., on emergency-room care for Medicaid patients; Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., on corporate expatriation; and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on extending unemployment benefits.

More than 200 amendments are pending, ranging from a measure by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to boost funding for Amtrak to a provision by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, dealing with chick peas.

According to a list circulated Wednesday, senators hope to offer a total of 238 amendments before debate on the omnibus measure ends. Although Democrats filed more amendments than Republicans, GOP amendments include measures by Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi to boost aviation security, and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to provide refugee assistance.