WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Tuesday ignored a veto threat and easily passed legislation that would spend more than President George W. Bush wants this year for social programs including health care, education and job training.
By a veto-proof margin of 75-19, the Senate passed the bill that would cost $606 billion in the fiscal year that started Oct 1. Of that total, $152 billion funds programs that Congress tinkers with each year.
The rest of the money largely pays for federal retirement and health-care programs for the poor and elderly that the government is obligated to pay, unless lawmakers take on the difficult and unpopular task of reforming them.
Last week, the White House complained the bill topped Bush’s February funding request by about $9 billion.
“I really can’t believe the president wants us to cut funding for cancer research; cut children from the rolls of Head Start (preschool program for children from low-income families),” said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who steered the bill through the Senate.
Noting Bush’s proposed reductions in home heating assistance for the poor, Harkin added, “All I can assume is that the president is getting some very bad advice.”
Republicans have countered that lawmakers should work harder to rein in government, an argument made difficult by the fact that overall spending skyrocketed during the previous six years when they controlled Congress, and as Iraq war funding is rapidly approaching $600 billion.
The measure marked the second time in recent weeks Bush was challenged on spending for social programs. He recently vetoed legislation to expand a popular health-care program for children.
The Senate will try to work out a compromise with the House, which wants to spend about $2 billion more. The bill is the largest of the 12 annual spending measures and the White House warned last week Bush would veto it.
In challenging Bush, congressional Democrats argued that domestic social programs needed a bigger boost following years of Republican budgets they say underfunded programs such as cancer research, energy assistance for the poor and grants to help low-income children go to preschool and college.
Lawmakers deleted from the bill a provision objectionable to Bush, which would have expanded federally funded stem cell medical research. Bush has twice vetoed similar legislation.