WASHINGTON -- The Senate began debate yesterday on a post-riot aid package for Los Angeles that includes $1.45 billion in increased spending on summer jobs and education programs across the nation -- an add-on vigorously opposed by the Bush administration.
The action came after President Bush warned that the additional spending for domestic programs was "not acceptable" and hinted that enacting it now might disrupt talks between the White House and Congress over longer-term urban aid.
The latest spending package includes two parts -- $494.7 million for disaster relief, and $500 million for direct loans to small businesses damaged in the rioting that followed the Rodney King beating verdict. Neither of those elements is opposed by the administration.
But the Senate also added $1.45 billion to increase spending for social programs in inner cities, including $700 million to provide summer jobs for youths and $250 million each for Head Start, summer school programs and the "Weed and Seed" program of law enforcement and delivery of health and social services in areas of high poverty and crime.
The Senate put off a vote on the bill until tomorrow as lawmakers rushed forward with a long list of unrelated amendments, seeing the opportunity to attach favored legislation to a bill likely to win passage.
If the $1.45 billion in increased spending survives, Mr. Bush will have to either accept it despite his reservations or veto the entire aid package -- a step that could prove embarrassing in the wake of the Los Angeles riots.
The Senate debate came as White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner opened talks with top congressional leaders on how to develop a longer-term urban aid program.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, said the two sides made "some real good progress," but other participants said privately there was little besides a restatement of positions and an agreement for further talks.
The group is to meet again today and continue over the next few weeks until it reaches a compromise. House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., is heading the congressional side of the negotiations.
The addition of the $1.45 billion -- sponsored jointly by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee -- has become serious point of contention between Congress and the White House.
Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday that the extra spending "is not acceptable to the administration," and served notice that he intended to take a hard line in opposing it, at least on this bill.