WASHINGTON (AP) A massive spending bill with increases long sought by Democrats for education, health and job training programs passed the Senate on Wednesday despite a promised veto.
The measure, passed 56-37, would be the first of 12 spending bills for the budget year that began Oct. 1 to reach Bush. The veto would be his first of a regular appropriations bill.
The tally was far short of the veto-proof margin that a nearly identical bill earned last month.
The upcoming veto would be the first skirmish in a fight promised by Bush over Democrats' efforts to add about $23 billion for domestic programs to his $933 billion cap for agency budgets that are passed by Congress each year.
The $606 billion House-Senate compromise measure passed the Senate after Republicans used procedural tactics to remove $65 billion for veterans' programs and military base construction. The legislation contains $151 billion in discretionary money directly under lawmakers' control.
Democrats had attached the $65 billion for politically sacrosanct veterans' programs to the education and health measure in hopes in winning enough GOP votes to override Bush's veto.
The strategy backfired in the House on Tuesday night falling five votes short of the two-thirds to override a veto and unraveled completely in the Senate on Wednesday.
Now, the labor, health and job training heads back to the House for a final vote as early as Thursday and then to the White House.
More than any other spending bill, the education and health measure defines the differences between Bush and majority Democrats.
Since winning re-election, Bush has sought to cut the labor, health and education measure below the prior year level. But lawmakers have rejected the cuts. The budget that Bush presented in February sought almost $4 billion in cuts to this year's bill.
Democrats responded by adding $10 billion to Bush's request for the 2008 bill. The increases cover a broad spectrum of social programs, including:
a 20 percent increase over Bush's request for job training programs.
$1.4 billion more than Bush's request for health research at the National Institutes of Health, a 5 percent increase.
$2.4 billion for heating subsidies for the poor, $480 million more than Bush requested.
$665 million for grants to community action agencies; Bush sought to kill the program outright.
$63.6 billion for the Education Department, a 5 percent increase over 2007 spending and 8 percent more than Bush asked for.
a $225 million increase for community health centers.
Bush's veto promise, said Sen. Tom Harkin, "shows how isolated President Bush has become.
"Every additional dime that we have put in here go to bedrock, essential programs and services that this Congress and this president and other presidents have always supported," said Harkin, D-Iowa.
The move to split off the veterans' and military base construction increases leaves those budgets in limbo.
Republicans say Democrats are failing veterans by not passing the Veterans Affairs' budget by Veterans Day, which is Monday. But veterans' groups are thankful for budget increases engineered by Democrats and have not joined in the criticism.
The veterans' bill adds $3.7 billion to the VA budget over Bush's request. The increase would ease waiting times to claim VA health benefits and add money to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries; such conditions increasingly are common among Iraq war veterans.
The increases come on top of steady gains for the VA this year and in recent years. Most recently, when Democrats took control of Congress this year, they added $3.4 billion to the veterans' budget over prior year levels and $1.8 billion more in May.