WASHINGTON -- The Senate Friday gave final approval to an $11.2 billion emergency spending package for Colombia, Kosovo and disaster relief -- but not until lawmakers had extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in special concessions for their states and pet interests.
After a tortuous three-month legislative odyssey, the final bill included extra money for a Gulfstream jet for the Coast Guard commandant, aid to Long Island Sound lobster fishermen, a new U.S. Customs Service center in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and a sea life institute in Seward, Alaska.
GOP leaders also made sure there were flood and housing relief funds earmarked for constituents of two Republican House members locked in tough Senate races -- Reps. Rick Lazio of New York and Bob Franks of New Jersey.
The inclusion of such projects prompted a last-minute threat of a filibuster from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Phil Gramm, R-Tex., who complained about excessive ''pork barrel'' spending and budgetary tricks to help pay for it.
McCain complained that under the guise of a national emergency, appropriations leaders were ramming through an emergency spending bill ''incredibly full of unnecessary, unwanted, unauthorized, unmitigated pork.''
Citing as an example the $45 million for a Gulfstream V jet for the Coast Guard commandant, McCain, a Vietnam War hero, quipped: ''I'd be glad to pay for his first-class air fair while he awaits that emergency.'' The Coast Guard says the existing plane is 16 years old and experiencing reliability and maintenance problems.
But McCain and Gramm ended their delaying tactics and the Senate approved the package by a voice vote after Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., brokered a deal that involved dropping $6 billion worth of unorthodox budget accounting tactics.
Lott said he agreed the emergency package had grown too plump, but argued that further delays in approving the funds-requested last winter by the Clinton administration-would hurt U.S. military readiness and undermine the Colombia government's battle against drug traffickers. The deal came together after Lott threatened to keep the Senate in through the July 4 weekend to finish up.
''Sometimes you have to stare the situation down before you get results,'' Lott told reporters.
The emergency package, approved by the House 306 to 110 Thursday night, now goes to President Clinton, who has indicated he would sign it. The funds, attached to a relatively minor 2001 military construction spending bill, include $1.3 billion earmarked for Colombia and other Andean countries in their war against drug grower and dealers, and $6.4 billion for the military, including $2 billion to replenish operating and maintenance funds used for Kosovo.
There is also $361 million for relief from Hurricane Floyd and other disasters, $661 million for the extensive forest fire damage in New Mexico, $600 million for low-income heating and cooling, $700 million for the Coast Guard, and $20 million for the National Transportation Safety Board to cover extraordinary costs associated with the Alaska Air and Egypt Air crash investigations.
House and Senate Republicans have fought for months over how to package the aid, and Lott held out for less in spending than the House had initially approved. The Pentagon has repeatedly warned that it would have to curtail or cancel summer military training exercises unless Congress approved the bill this week. Meanwhile, President Andres Pastrana of Colombia cautioned that the delay was hurting his country's struggling anti-drug efforts.
Friday, White House drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey said the legislation would help the government of Colombia ''respond to the drug emergency and support its democratic institutions.''
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.