Congress Tackles Spending, Anti-Torture Measures

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Republican leaders in Congress are vowing to resuscitate White House-backed spending and tax cut bills that they had to pull late last week for lack of support. Also, a showdown looms over a Senate-endorsed anti-torture provision that faces a threatened White House veto.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week, congressional leaders face debates over interlocking issues. Republican leaders want to try again to cut spending and cut taxes after members of their own party stopped them last week. The pressure to cut spending comes after Hurricane Katrina and also amid heavy spending in Iraq. Iraq will likely be debated this week as the Senate considers a major defense bill and that leads to another issue: a proposal to ban torture. That proposal faces a threatened veto from the White House. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants to extend tax breaks for investors beyond the end of President Bush's term when they're due to expire, but instead of voting on a $69 billion tax cut package that would do that late last week, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee postponed voting when it became clear they face certain defeat. Frist was vague when asked when the panel would try again.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): I am not sure when the call of the chair is going to pull us back in. I believe that we can put together a good, well-supported tax reconciliation package. The timing of it, I don't know.

WELNA: In the House, the Republican legislative steamroller also got stuck in a ditch. GOP leaders there tried and failed to round up enough votes last Thursday to pass a $54 billion package of spending cuts, about a third of them coming from anti-poverty programs. Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, faced with the rebellion of moderates in his own party and solid Democratic opposition, pulled the bill from the floor.

Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): We're going to come back next week and continue to work with our members and get this job done.

WELNA: But many members are now concerned more about getting re-elected next year than rallying around the agenda of an increasingly unpopular president, and Democrats are now openly accusing Mr. Bush of dishonesty in taking the country to war. Here's Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy last Thursday.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): A hundred and fifty thousand American troops are bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq because the Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the intelligence to justify a war that America never should have fought.

WELNA: President Bush was quick to point out the next day that it wasn't just Republicans who backed going to war.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate who had access to the same intelligence voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

WELNA: It's an argument other Republicans are also making as Democrats push to finish a Senate probe into whether intelligence was misused in making the case for war. Duke University congressional expert David Rhode doubts reminding Democrats of their prewar statements is likely to silence them.

Mr. DAVID ROHDE (Congressional Expert, Duke University): They can say, `If what we were told were true, it would have been the right thing to do, but it wasn't true, and they either knew it wasn't true or should have known it wasn't true.'

WELNA: Another flashpoint this week is likely to be the Senate's insistence on keeping an amendment banning torture in a defense spending bill that's being merged with a House version that lacks such a provision. Arizona Republican John McCain, who sponsored the anti-torture measure, rebuffed Vice President Cheney's compromise proposal of leaving the measure in the bill but exempting the CIA from its strictures.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Why is it that some people feel that we should carve out an exemption for a branch of our government to practice cruel and inhumane treatment or even torture?

WELNA: And debate is likely to continue today in the Senate over another controversial measure that narrowly passed last week. It would bar foreign detainees from the right to habeas corpus. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sponsored that measure.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you want to give a Guantanamo Bay detainee habeas corpus rights as a US citizen, not only have you changed the law of armed conflict like no one else in the history of the world, I think you're undermining our own national security because the habeas petitions are flowing out of that place like crazy.

WELNA: New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman is offering a separate amendment that would restore that right to habeas corpus.

Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): The world has come to doubt our government's commitment to the rule of law. Let's not provide an additional basis for those doubts by stripping our federal courts of the right to consider petitions for habeas corpus.

WELNA: So much remains unfinished in Congress that it's not clear when lawmakers will adjourn. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

INSKEEP: Now the balance of power between the White House and Congress is shifting and you can read about it in David Welna's Pennsylvania Avenue column, which is at

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