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Spending bill stuffed with earmarks
President Obama on Monday vowed to reel in wasteful Washington spending and blasted deceptive “accounting tricks” used by the Bush administration to fund the Iraq war even as House Democrats released a $410 billion stopgap spending bill studded with thousands of pork-barrel projects.
The 1,000-plus-page spending bill provides a fat target for deficit hawks. It includes hundreds of pages of earmarks - pet spending projects inserted by lawmakers, ranging from $185,000 for coral reef research and preservation in Maui County, Hawaii, to $55,000 in meteorological equipment for Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., to $9.9 million for science enhancement at historically black colleges in South Carolina.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, defended the spending blueprint that is needed to fund more than a dozen Cabinet departments for the final seven months of the federal fiscal year. She said the increases were needed to fund programs and policies starved for dollars under President George W. Bush. It is a $30 billion, or 8 percent, increase over comparable budgets for the same departments in fiscal 2008.
A spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said each earmark included in the bill was spelled out and linked to the member who had requested it, a disclosure practice that began when Democrats regained control of the House in 2006.
“There aren’t nearly as many earmarks in these bills as there were when [the Republicans] were in power, and unlike those days, every earmark is listed, every sponsor identified, and the public has a chance for real accountability,” said Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obey.
At the White House, Mr. Obama, who sharply attacked earmarks on the campaign trail, did not take a stance on the thousands of items included in the bill.
“Let me not get ahead of a discussion with him, not having seen or not have had lain on his desk what Congress might ultimately send him,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
Speaking at a summit called to review the nation’s teetering fiscal situation, Mr. Obama offered a stern warning to budgeting of the past and pledged to reinstate pay-as-you-go rules to cut the $1.3 trillion federal deficit in half by the end of his first term.
“The pay-go approach is based on a very simple concept. You don’t spend what you don’t have. So if we want to spend, we’ll need to find somewhere else to cut,” Mr. Obama told economists, union leaders, policy wonks and lawmakers from both parties.
“This is the rule that families across this country follow every single day, and there’s no reason why their government shouldn’t do the same.”
Mr. Obama said pay-go budgeting helped the United States end the 1990s with a $236 billion surplus under the Clinton administration.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will address a joint session of Congress to outline his take on the state of the union and on Thursday will present Congress with his first budget, covering fiscal 2010. But on Monday House Democrats took the first step to clearing up the budget for the current fiscal year that stalled amid fights between Democrats and the Bush administration. Congress kept the government working with a temporary omnibus spending bill that expires March 6.
Combined with the three spending bills already approved for homeland security, defense and veterans programs, discretionary spending would top $1 trillion for the first time.
In addition to the basic operations of government, the new budget includes 775 pages of earmarks, funding programs that include local museums, colleges and infrastructure projects.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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