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Senate Republicans bail on Bush

From NBC's Ken Strickland
In two different votes today on the Senate floor, 40 of the 49 Senate Republicans defied President Bush's request for fiscal discipline. One vote was add billions of dollars in domestic spending to the war-funding bill; the other vote was to override the President's veto of the farm bill. 

Some of the senators voted against the president of both measures; others on just one. The list of 40 includes every single one of the 18 Senate Republicans facing re-election this year. 

As recently as two days ago, the Bush Administration made it clear they would veto any war-funding bill that included domestic spending. In its Statement of Administration Policy, which carries the official rational for vetoes, it said, "The President also made clear that this bill must be fiscally responsible... this legislation includes billions of dollars of unrequested domestic spending, all of it in excess of the President's request."

Some of the items included are $11 billion for unemployment insurance, $10 billion for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and $5 billion a year (over 10 years) for a new GI Bill expanding educational benefits for veterans. 

The passage of the GI Bill can also be seen a rejection of McCain. The Arizona senator and presumptive GOP presidential nominee offered an alternative proposal that was killed on the Senate floor last week with the help of some Republicans. They included fellow Republican war vets John Warner and Chuck Hagel. In total, 11 Republicans in the Senate signed on as co-sponsors to Senator Jim Webb's bill that was approved today.

The defections on the veto override of the farm bill came as no surprise, since the legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support on its initial passage. In a press conference last month, Bush called the farm bill "bloated" and told Congress to dramatically reduce subsidy payments to multi-millionaire farmers. "Congress can reform our farm programs, and should, by passing a fiscally responsible bill that treats our farmers fairly, and does not impose new burdens on American taxpayers."

There were seven Republicans who voted with the president on both bills. They were Robert Bennett, John Ensign, Judd Gregg, Jon Kyl, Dick Lugar, and George Voinovich. Jim DeMint voted "present" on the farm bill. Republicans John McCain and Tom Coburn were absent, but both have said the would have voted with the president for fiscal discipline -- and the records support that position.

*** UPDATE *** Strickland adds this important point: The domestic spending measure may have attracted Republicans because it likely provided some political cover for those up for re-election. For instance, while the GI bill provision was opposed by the president and McCain, it was supported by every major veterans organization in the country. And one outside group was using it to run ads against some of those Republicans.

The domestic spending package also included things like $11 billion for unemployment insurance and $10 billion for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Voting for the entire package allowed Senators to in effect say, "I voted for it because I really supported money for Katrina (or something else), not that I supported Webb's veterans bill." And knowing that Bush would veto it anyway if it reached his desk, it may have been a safe bet for GOPers to support it. Most importantly, it's passage as part of a broader bill eliminated a stand alone vote on Webb's proposal.