Republicans Take Fork Out of the Pork -- a Little

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For a while there, Republicans had a good idea: Take Bill Clinton's $6 billion request for Kosovo funds and double it, burnishing the GOP's pro-defense reputation and supporting the troops too. But soon, Clinton's expected signature began to sound like a dinner bell, and by the time negotiations on the "emergency funding" bill wound up Thursday night, the special interests had piled on. Now it's a sloppy $14.7 billion porker -- complete with a controversial permit for a gold mine on a pristine Washington State mountain and $3 million to aid commercial reindeer herders in Alaska. It could have been worse. Some $270 million in supports for oil, gas and steel companies had to be yanked at the last minute, for fear that Clinton would have declared "enough" and vetoed the bill outright.

TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan says he still could. "Most of the additions are fine by him, like the hurricane relief to Central America and the FEMA funds for Oklahoma," he says. But Washington senator Slade Gorton's gold-mine rider directly overturns an administration decision to block the mine, and Clinton still has the political capital on Kosovo to demand a leaner, cleaner bill. "It's a game of chicken, but the Republicans already look bad on Kosovo," Branegan says. "Clinton could probably score some points by accusing Congress of slowing down the bill with pork, and they'd have to clean it up and send it back." Hopefully sometime before NATO has to start dropping water balloons.