Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Another $373 Billion Down the Drain

Highlights of a $373 billion bill that congressional and White House bargainers agreed to on Tuesday financing much of the government for the federal budget year that began Oct. 1. House and Senate votes could come next month.

-Agencies financed: Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs. Also covers the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the federal courts, assistance to the District of Columbia, and U.S. foreign aid programs.

-$4.6 billion for the FBI, $423 million over last year.

-$1.2 billion for Amtrak, $180 million over last year.

-Nearly $4.9 billion for the federal judicial system, $240 million over last year.

-$1.5 billion to aid states, local governments to update voting systems.

-$339 million for the Legal Services Corp., $2 million more than last year.

-$545 million for the District of Columbia. Has $14 million that some of the city's low- income students could use as vouchers to help pay for private schools.

-$17.6 billion for foreign aid, nearly $3 billion below last year, including mid-year bills financing overseas efforts against terrorism. Includes $1 billion for new program to help countries making democratic reforms. Has $405 million for Afghanistan, nothing for Iraq.

-$444 million for AmeriCorps national service program, $170 million over last year and $10 million over President Bush's request.

-$12.4 billion to help poor school districts, $727 million over last year.

-$6.8 billion for Head Start preschool program, $148 million over last year.

-$8.4 billion for Environmental Protection Agency, $330 million over last year.

-$15.4 billion for NASA, $90 million over last year, including $3.9 billion for the space shuttle.

-Eliminates provisions in earlier versions easing travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.

-Delays for two years required labels that identify the country many foods come from. They were due to take effect next September. Wild and farm-raised fish would stick with the earlier schedule.

-Forbids the U.S. Patent Office from granting patents on human organisms, such as genetically engineered embryos.

-Lets networks own television stations reaching 39 percent of viewers, up from 35 percent.

-Excludes provision approved by the Senate - and the House in a nonbinding vote - blocking Bush administration rules critics say could cost 8 million workers their overtime pay. Administration says plan is needed to update to old regulations.

-Allows to proceed much of Bush's plan to replace some federal workers with private contractors.

-Lets California - but no other states - issue regulations on pollution by small engines like lawnmowers, but would need federal approval. EPA would have to develop national standards.

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