Washington The Senate thwarted efforts Wednesday to block Bush administration pollution rules and to double aid for drought-stricken farmers as Republicans batted down Democratic amendments to a sweeping $390 billion spending bill for this year.
As momentum for finishing the bill grew, the Republican-controlled Senate accepted several amendments which would boost spending but, under Congress' budget rules, will not increase the bill's price tag for this year. The biggest was $1.5 billion for state grants for education for disabled children -- money that won't be spent until the government's next fiscal year starts in October.
By 50-46, senators killed an effort by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., to delay Environmental Protection Agency regulations that will let factories, refineries and processing plants modernize without upgrading their air pollution systems.
The vote was a victory for President Bush in the first major environmental showdown of the new Congress and briefly shined the spotlight on Edwards, a 2004 presidential hopeful. It was hailed by industry groups as a boon to business and criticized by environmentalists who said it would result in dirtier air.
"What are we going to say to ... the kids who have had asthma attacks, the seniors who have had serious heart and respiratory problems" if the rules take effect, Edwards said.
Edwards' opponents said the Bush rules would let plants that were expanding or being repaired improve their air quality controls without being forced by the government to use the most expensive state-of-the-art equipment.
Later, the Senate by 56-39 turned aside an amendment by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., that would have roughly doubled the $3.1 billion the overall measure has for farmers. Instead, senators voted 59-35 for an alternative by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., focusing more of the money already in the bill for growers and ranchers hurt by natural disasters.
The $1.5 billion for next year's special education programs -- pushed by Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., James Jeffords, I-Vt., and others -- was accepted by voice vote. The sponsors originally hoped the extra funds would be added to the $8.5 billion the bill already contained for the program, but Republicans objected.
Also accepted by voice vote were a Democratic amendment that provides $180 million to combat AIDS in Africa, and a GOP plan to add $165 million for security screening of people entering the United States. They were largely paid for by new congressional estimates that parts of the bill, including higher Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals, will cost less than expected earlier.