A 1,924-page “omnibus” bill to fund the government is headed for a U.S. Senate vote that will put lawmakers from both parties on the spot over the practice of earmarking money for their pet projects.
The $1.2 trillion measure, unveiled yesterday by Democrats, includes thousands of earmarks and comes just a month after Republicans adopted a nonbinding moratorium on the projects. The Senate’s Democratic majority aims to overcome objections with the help of Republicans such as Senators George Voinovich of Ohio and Bob Bennett of Utah, who scoff at complaints over the projects.
“I have a disagreement with my colleagues on earmarks,” said Voinovich, who is retiring after two terms. “We’re fooling the American people when we tell them the problem is earmarks.”
Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, urged his colleagues to deny Democrats the votes needed to advance the bill that funds federal agencies and programs for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, 2011.
“All of us know that it’s really bad for our party to pass an omnibus with earmarks,” he told reporters.
The head of the Club for Growth, a Washington-based anti- tax group, said Republicans backing the bill would face political repercussions.
Lawmakers voting for the “porked-up monstrosity would forfeit any claim to fiscal responsibility and economic conservatism,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “Every Republican ‘aye’ vote will likely face a serious primary challenge in their next re-election campaign, and should.”
Democrats, who control the Senate with 58 votes, would need 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, said yesterday he was confident the measure would be passed before Congress adjourns for the year.
All but about a dozen senators requested projects, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has put some of them in a politically awkward position. Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, is promising to vote against the legislation though he secured more than $60 million in earmarks in the bill.
“I support those projects but I don’t support this bill, nor do I support the process by which this bill was put together,” Thune told reporters today.
The bill’s earmarks would cost about $8 billion, according to Rob Blumenthal, an Inouye spokesman.
A stopgap measure funding the government expires Dec. 18. If Senate Democrats fall short of the 60 votes needed to proceed on their bill, they will likely take up a House-passed version of the measure that omits earmarks.
Republicans in both chambers have been pushing for a short-term funding extension that would extend into early next year. With Republicans taking the majority in the next House session and the party gaining seats in the Senate, that would make it easier for them to prevail with promised spending cuts.
The omnibus measure would cap a year that included a breakdown in the congressional budgeting process, as Democrats were unable to pass a tax-and-spending blueprint or any of the 12 annual appropriations bills to fund federal agencies for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
The legislation includes about $20 billion more than the House plan, according to a summary provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would provide $1.108 trillion in annual appropriations, along with about $160 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like the House bill, it includes provisions opposed by the White House that would bar the administration from bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or other terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S. for trial.
Lawmakers, defying a veto threat, also included $450 million to develop a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, which the Pentagon has called a waste of money. The measure endorses the administration’s call to freeze pay for non-military federal employees. Republicans estimated the bill includes more than $1 billion to begin implementing the administration’s health-care bill approved earlier this year.
A list provided by Democrats of earmarks in the legislation runs more than 300 pages. Among the proposals: $8 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, which is to be located in Boston. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, died in August 2009 after a Senate career that spanned almost 47 years.
Bennett, who worked in the Department of Transportation during President Richard Nixon’s administration, said that without the earmarks, White House officials would spend money on their preferred projects and lawmakers would prod agency heads to fund projects.
“I was on the receiving end of those phone calls,” said Bennett, who was defeated earlier this year in his bid for a fourth term. He said the earmarking process is “at least transparent, and it’s an improvement over the way things used to be and the way things will go back to being if they succeed in eliminating the earmark process.”
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