Spending bill stuffed with earmarks

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Among the earmarked projects in the bill are $764,000 for the Lake George Watershed Protection Initiative in New York, requested by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat; $9.9 million for South Carolina’s historically black colleges and universities, requested by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat; and $1.1 million requested by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, both of Tennessee, for water treatment plant improvements in Tennessee’s Unicoi County, as well as $300,000 for a sewer extension project in another county.

The spending bill also included a small number of policy “riders,” including one limiting the right of Mexican truckers to haul freight on U.S. routes and another blocking any Agriculture Department rule to ease Chinese poultry exports to the United States.

Republicans attacked the earmarks and the higher spending levels, noting the bill comes just over a week after Congress approved Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package of spending increases and tax cuts to bolster the ailing economy. They also complained that the huge appropriations bill will be rushed through Congress, with the House set to debate and vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

“On the heels of a trillion-dollar stimulus bill, this huge increase will have a devastating impact on our federal debt and sets a dangerous precedent for future federal budgets,” said a statement released by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee. “To make matters worse, this massive spending bill was crafted under covers and out of view of the American public.”

House Republican leaders said that instead of increasing spending, Congress should freeze spending at 2008 levels.

“At a time of record deficits, a freeze would allow the federal government to keep functioning at current spending levels without requiring beleaguered taxpayers to pay for new spending increases,” says the letter sent to Mrs. Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

The president and his aides acknowledged that the $787 billion economic stimulus plan is adding to the nation’s debt, but said his budget will take that into account.

“We cannot and will not sustain deficits like these without end. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years, we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation,” Mr. Obama said.

Among the cuts he outlined: ending payments to agribusiness, eliminating no-bid contracts in Iraq, stopping Medicare fraud, and ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas - a regular campaign promise that Mr. Obama hasn’t mentioned recently.

The president and his aides suggested that the best way to get to fiscal stability is to pass health care reform, saying that it may cost money in the short term but will have the strongest long-term financial benefit.

Mr. Obama said Monday he was appointing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a former inspector general to oversee economic stimulus spending, also warning a gathering of the nation’s governors that it “sounds like politics” when they argue over small portions of his stimulus plan.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Biden’s job, working with governors and mayors to “keep things on track” as they spend the money, proves “how important it is for our country” and “a willingness to get this right.”

The president named Earl Devaney, a former Secret Service agent, as chairman of the newly formed Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Recovery Board. Mr. Devaney was inspector general at the Department of the Interior and was key to uncovering the political-influence scandal tied to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“This is not a blank check,” Mr. Obama said. “The American people are watching, they need this plan to work, and they expect to see their money spent with its intended purpose.”

Mr. Obama also offered remarks pointed at Republican critics of his plan who appeared on cable news shows over the weekend to blast it as wasteful.

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