WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress on Friday sent President Barack Obama a bill to fund much of the government into next week, after Democrats hit a snag wrapping up a $410 billion measure to pay for the rest of this fiscal year which ends September 30.
Senate Republicans forced a delay, denying a victory to Senate Democrats who are anxious to finish up the 2009 business and start on funding for fiscal 2010, which begins October 1.
Republicans have slammed the spending bill as too expensive at 8 percent above fiscal 2008 funding, while lawmakers on both sides complain it funds thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects in their home districts.
Some senators are also upset that it begins to roll back some policies from the previous administration of George W. Bush, including relaxing some limits on travel and trade to Cuba and funding a U.N. family planning agency.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had hoped to pass the legislation on Thursday, said he was one vote short of the 60 needed to end debate.
“We have to work together,” he said on Friday. “A significant number of Republicans wanted some more amendments.”
So far no amendments have been adopted despite Republican attempts to trim the bill and remove some projects. They also argued some programs already received extra money in the $787 billion stimulus bill enacted last month.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have called for freezing spending at 2008 levels, an idea Democrats rejected. Another attempt in the House to do that failed on Friday.
“There is a storm brewing out in the hinterlands fueled by the public’s disdain over the free-for-all spending of this Congress,” said Representative Jerry Lewis, the senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
The government is almost halfway through the 2009 fiscal year but because Democrats clashed with the Bush administration last year, Congress never finished most of the annual spending bills. Even as lawmakers try to wrap this up, Obama has already submitted his budget outline for fiscal 2010.
FIGHT OVER CUBA, PET PROJECTS
The House has approved the $410 billion legislation, which funds departments like agriculture and transportation. But 60 votes were needed to end the debate in the Senate and while Democrats control 58 seats, several defected preventing that.
Two Senate Democrats, Florida’s Bill Nelson and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, refused to back the bill because it would ease some travel and trade restrictions with Cuba. Plus some Democrats were upset with the thousands of pet projects.
That forced Democratic leaders to seek Republican support. Reid said on Thursday that while some Republicans were willing to vote to end debate and pass the bill, their colleagues wanted more amendments considered.
Reid said more votes on amendments would be held on Monday and Tuesday and he would again try to end debate and pass the legislation on Tuesday.
The Senate late on Thursday rejected one amendment that would have barred the U.S. government from using money in the bill to contract with firms identified by the Treasury Department as doing business in Iran’s energy sector.
Senate Democrats said they backed the concept but rejected it being attached to the spending bill.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Vicki Allen
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