Senate Democrats hit hurdle on $410 billion spending
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats who control the U.S. Senate were unable on Thursday to round up the votes to end debate and pass a $410 billion bill to fund many government operations through September 30, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
The Senate will try again next week, Reid said. In addition to funding the departments of transportation, agriculture and commerce, among others, the legislation would begin to roll back strict limits on travel and trade with long-time foe Cuba -- a move President Barack Obama supports.
The provisions on Cuba drew opposition from two Democrats, Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida, in part forcing Democratic leaders to seek Republican support for the legislation.
In a setback for Democrats who control 58 of the 100 Senate seats, Reid said they fell one short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the measure and move to a vote on passage.
"It appears at this time we're going to have to continue work on this bill," Reid said, adding that a number of Republicans wanted to offer additional amendments. "I wish that weren't the case."
No amendments so far have been adopted but Republicans have offered several changes to the bill, including trying to slim down the measure, arguing that the legislation represented an 8 percent increase in government spending over fiscal 2008.
A temporary spending measure to fund many government agencies expires on Friday at midnight, but an extension to last through Tuesday is expected, Reid said.
The 2009 fiscal year ends September 30 and only the departments of defense, homeland security and veterans affairs have received their full funding, leaving most agencies with the temporary funds.
Reid said that some Republicans were willing to vote for the bill but they felt obligated to support those in their party who wanted to offer additional amendments.
Senators will be able to offer them Friday and Monday with votes expected again on Monday. Reid has said previously that if any were adopted, he would seek to fund the government at last year's levels without increases.
CUBA TRAVEL AND TRADE
Obama has made clear he favors relaxing limits on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, although he has said the U.S. trade embargo should stay in place to press for democratic reforms.
The Cuba proposals do not lift the overall U.S. embargo on the communist-run country, but would prohibit the Treasury Department from enforcing Bush administration rules requiring payment of cash in advance for agricultural sales to Cuba.
The legislation proposes to allow Americas with immediate family in Cuba to travel there once a year instead of once every three years and broadens the definition of immediate family.
"It's being done in a haphazard way without real clarity about the implications that it all will have," said Republican opponent of the provisions, Senator Mel Martinez from Florida, which is home to thousands of Cuban exiles like himself.
Most of the changes to law in the bill would expire September 30 unless Congress votes to extend them.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Anthony Boadle and Jackie Frank)
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