Congress nears approval of hurricane aid, corporate tax cuts - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Congress nears approval of hurricane aid, corporate tax cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ending weeks of stalemate, lawmakers got ready Saturday to send nearly $15 billion to states battered by hurricanes and drought as Congress plowed through a pre-election pile of bills that cut taxes and overhaul intelligence agencies.

House-Senate bargainers met one final time to put the finishing touches on the natural disaster assistance and attach it to a $10 billion military construction measure.

The House planned to approve the bill in a rare weekend session. Senators debating a bill reorganizing how they oversee intelligence agencies were expected to send the relief aid measure to President Bush by early next week.

The legislation underscored the heightened political sensitivities of the run-up to the Nov. 2 election. Both parties were eager to quickly ship aid to vote-rich and hurricane-battered Florida. Though Bush never proposed drought aid, the White House and members of both parties were loath to deny it to Pennsylvania, Ohio and other important electoral states.

``I just want this done. Our state is so affected'' by the storms, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.

The hurricane money neared approval as:

_The House by 282-134 passed legislation creating a new national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, as recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. The chamber added anti-terrorism, deportation, border security and identity theft powers to the bill that the Senate had rejected. GOP leaders want to send Bush a compromise measure before the election.

_ Both bodies prepared to approve a bill that maps $447 billion in defense programs for 2005. It would block the Air Force from leasing midair refueling tankers from the Boeing Co., but let it buy 100 Boeing 767 planes for use as tankers. It would also allow another round of military base closings; overhaul the way sickened nuclear weapons industry workers are paid compensation; and let South Carolina and Idaho store radioactive waste from Cold War bomb projects.

_The Senate got ready to give final congressional approval to a bill cutting corporate taxes by $136 billion. The tax cuts replace a federal tax break for U.S. exporters that the World Trade Organization had ruled illegal. It also keeps a $10.1 billion buyout for tobacco farmers' Depression-era quotas, but omits Senate-passed language allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

_The House by 210-182 turned down a Democratic demand for a special counsel to investigate the conduct of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. The House ethics committee admonished DeLay twice within six days for among other things creating the appearance of linking political donations to a legislative favor.

The hurricane package included $11.8 billion for Florida and other eastern states ravaged by four hurricanes in a six-week late summer barrage. It also had another $2.9 billion for farmers and ranchers hurt by drought, floods and other harsh conditions.

The government will have to borrow the hurricane funds, making huge federal deficits even larger. The drought money was supposed to be financed by cutting a program that pays farmers to conserve their lands, though the reductions could be reversed before they take effect near the end of the decade.
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