The U.S. House of Representatives voted Monday against a bill to release money earmarked for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel known as “first responders.”
The bill already passed in the Senate and, therefore, is currently under the consideration of a joint Senate-House conference committee. The conference committee could change the bill as it sees fit, and the final bill could be radically changed from the original.
The current bill includes $90 million to investigate and treat any adverse side reactions to toxic material experienced by Ground Zero workers in New York.
The Senate also voted to increase funding during the 2003 fiscal year for the FIRE act to more than $900 million, up from $360 million last year and $92 million in 2001. The FIRE act, passed last year, allows local fire departments to receive direct federal funds by filing a grant request.
Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said the $90 million for first responders, which was vetoed by Bush, was included in part of an emergency-spending bill.
“The first bill was an emergency-spending bill in August 2002,” Baldwin said.
In August, Bush said his line-item vetoes in the emergency-spending bill, such as the $90 million for first responders, were in response to Congress including more than $5 billion in unnecessary spending.
Baldwin said that, in an emergency-spending bill, the president has the authority to go through the approved bill and decide upon necessary spending to address the emergency. She said the bill the Senate just approved would not be an emergency bill, and the president would not be able to take out parts.
Bush was at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., Monday discussing national protection from bio-terrorism.
“I propose that discretionary federal spending increase by no more than 4 percent this year. That’s about as much as family income is expected to grow,” Bush said. “It seems like a reasonable benchmark for the federal budget.”
Baldwin’s spokesperson, Jonathan Beeton, said Bush’s administration is currently sifting through and deciding what parts of the budget could be expendable.
“Their budget is very tight right now,” Beeton said. “What does the administration choose to prioritize? They’re making choices about what we can afford.”
At the House vote Monday, Rep. Dave Obey, R-Wis., tried to gather support from the Republican majority for the vote, but House leadership made it a party-line vote, according to Tom Powell-Bullock, Obey’s spokesperson.
Powell-Bullock said many Republicans were in support of the bill and told Obey about their support in private but wanted to remain loyal to their party when the bill came to a vote.
Powell-Bullock agreed that deciding what stays in a budget is based on priorities.
“[Rep. Obey] believes that of all the pressing needs, this is one of the top priorities,” Powell-Bullock said.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said the funds were necessary.
“Our first responders and public-health officials do the lion’s share of the work to protect our communities,” Falk said. “We’ve made plans based on the assurance that federal funding would be on its way.”
Bush indicated Monday that he was anxious to see the results of the joint Senate-House conference committee.
“We are proposing billions of dollars to help first responders and hospitals increase their effectiveness,” Bush said.
“The Congress needs to finish the appropriations process as soon as possible, so we can get that money to the local governments.”