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Senate likely to pass nearly $6 billion in drought aid

WASHINGTON - The Senate is likely to approve almost $6 billion in drought aid for the country's ranchers and farmers as pressures of election-year politics apparently have overwhelmed efforts by President Bush to head off legislation he considers too expensive.

With crops withering and ranchers culling herds in numerous Western, Midwestern and Southern states, a dozen or more Republicans seem ready to join most Democrats and vote for the spending today. The plan was proposed last week by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and counts five Republicans among its 28 co-sponsors.

It probably will pass, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, conceded yesterday, a view shared by many in both parties.

The bill's estimated cost, projected last week at $5 billion or more, has been updated to $5.95 billion. It would cover many losses suffered by growers or ranchers in 2001 and 2002 from bad weather or other natural causes.

The drought proposal is one of several areas where the Bush administration is seeking to clamp down on federal spending, as projected federal deficits get ever larger. Democrats argue that the spending that Bush wants to cut pales compared with the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut he muscled through Congress last year.

Administration officials and GOP opponents of Daschle's plan say that eventually, the Senate and the Republican-controlled House will produce a final version that is less expensive and at least partly paid for with savings from elsewhere in the budget.

Bush has said he favors drought aid but wants savings to pay for it so the federal deficit does not grow.

Congressional aides said White House officials are considering an offer of a $1 billion or $2 billion alternative in the House.

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