- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

The Senate on Sunday sent President Obama another hot potato, passing a $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill that includes money needed to run dozens of government agencies but also is loaded with pork-barrel spending.

The bill, which funds most domestic federal agencies for the rest of this fiscal year, marks a 12 percent spending increase. Democrats said the spending was needed to counter neglect during the past eight years and that the money would act as another stimulus to create government jobs.

“Yes, we are spending more money to keep cops on the street, to keep neighborhoods safe so that families feel secure. I think it is money well spent,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said during the weekend’s debate. “Money spent to help our first responders, firefighters and policemen is a critical investment. This bill makes that investment.”

Republicans challenged Mr. Obama to veto the bill and uphold his campaign promises to cut pork-barrel projects and control spending.

“Our economy is still recovering from one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history. American families aren’t spending far and away above their means, and the federal government shouldn’t be either,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican.

The bill passed by a vote of 57-35. Three Republicans joined most Democrats and both independents in supporting it, and three Democrats joined most Republicans in opposing it.

The three Republicans who backed the bill were Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. The three Democrats who opposed it were Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Taxpayer watchdog groups say the bills are loaded with thousands of earmarks, the pork-barrel spending projects lawmakers include to direct money to pet projects.

Asked about the bill last week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he was unsure whether Mr. Obama would sign it. A veto would challenge the president’s own party, and Senate Democrats said they expect his signature.

The administration has not released an official statement of policy, which it usually issues on major bills that come before either chamber.

Included in the $1.1 trillion measure, which combines six of the dozen annual spending bills, is about $446 billion in discretionary spending. The rest is automatic entitlement spending, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The House passed all 12 of its spending bills, but the Senate failed to follow suit, forcing lawmakers to write the omnibus measure.

Mr. Gibbs said last week that the president was not satisfied with the appropriations process.

“The president believed and was hopeful that we could get a budget and a series of appropriations bills on time, and believes we should continue to do that,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I think that anybody would say that the process of either omnibus legislation or continuing resolutions that fund the government are not the ideal way to go about doing this.”

Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time since 1994, also ended riders that Republicans would attach to govern the way the District of Columbia government spends its money. Among them were riders that prohibited the city from implementing a medical marijuana initiative, curbed the use of needle-exchange programs and banned the use of local taxpayer money to fund abortions.

“These riders have cost residents dearly in lives lost, in an epidemic of an incurable disease, and in untold numbers of unwanted pregnancies, with a set of consequences of their own,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat.

Republicans forced the rare Sunday vote, holding Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to his pledge to keep the Senate in session through weekends.

To overcome a Republican filibuster on Saturday, Mr. Reid needed to keep all 60 members of his caucus in town. For Mr. Reid, that meant canceling a fundraiser in Louisiana.

Mr. Reid accused Republicans on Thursday of trying “to embarrass or denigrate me.”

“To say the least, I would never, ever intentionally come to the floor and try to talk to somebody about having had a fundraiser and that is why they are trying to get out of here,” he said.

He also said Republicans were letting talk-radio hosts goad them into obstructing Senate business.

Democrats put the health care debate on hold to take up the spending bill. After Sunday’s vote, the Senate returned to health care.

Still pending is a fight over reimporting prescription drugs from other countries, which a bipartisan group of senators says would help lower costs. The drug companies and the Obama administration, however, say that reimportation could present a safety hazard.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, has said he’ll block any other health care action until he gets a vote on his reimportation amendment, but other Democrats have said they’ll block any attempt to vote on Mr. Dorgan’s amendment.

Republicans, angered at the slow pace of votes on amendments, tried to fend off a Democratic filibuster of an amendment introduced by Sen. Michael D. Crapo, Idaho Republican, that would block any of the bill’s tax increases from affecting families with incomes less than $250,000 and individuals with incomes less than $200,000.

Republicans said it is a way to make good on Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge that he wouldn’t raise taxes on incomes below those levels.

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