Senate, House Work to Resolve Defense Bill, Money for USPS

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A House-Senate conference committee must reconcile differences over the next few days between the two versions of the Defense Department Appropriations bill.

The Senate's bill, which was passed by voice vote late Friday, makes many changes to what the House had approved last month, including adding $600 million for the U.S. Postal Service. The House version allocated no extra money for the USPS.

The $337.5 billion package is really two bills in one. The first provides $317.5 billion for Pentagon operations for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The second, at $20 billion, represents the last installment of $40 billion in emergency funds approved after Sept. 11.

In an earlier vote Friday, Republicans killed a $35 billion Democratic anti-terrorism plan in a 50-50 roll call that derailed the entire defense bill. Republicans got nine votes more than the 41 they needed on the procedural motion upending the bill. The $35 billion amendment, introduced by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, would have included $875 million for the postal service as part of $7.5 billion for homeland defense and $7.5 billion to help New York and other areas recover from the Sept. 11 attacks.

Competing with Byrd's proposal was an amendment from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, that would redistribute the $20 billion already set aside for security, rebuilding and other Sept. 11-related measures. This money is for the first quarter of 2002, Stevens said, after which President Bush is expected to request more money. Under Stevens' proposal, the USPS would have received $575 million.

In a bid for bipartisan support, Democrats wrote their new plan with help from Stevens and finally settled for a $20 billion alternative, a direct response to Bush's repeated threats to veto anything exceeding that amount. Bush strongly opposed the additional spending, saying the government has enough money for the time being.

In a statement from the White House, the president congratulated the Senate for approving a package he said "honors the agreement I reached with Congress and resists unnecessary non-defense spending.''


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