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Senate’s agenda grows as the clock ticks
Reid ready to work till Jan. 4
Forget about going quietly into the night.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a broad agenda for an end-of-session sprint that otherwise could be a whole year’s worth of activity — including an arms-reduction treaty with Russia, a major immigration reform bill and legislation overturning the ban on openly gay military service members.
That’s not to mention the nearly 2,000-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill that contains hundreds of pork-barrel projects and new rules governing things such as airport baggage and the fate of detainees at the military prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
What is likely to get the most attention is the omnibus spending bill, spanning 1,924 pages and spending what amounts to an average of $575.13 million per page.
It stands in contrast to the House, which last week passed a bill freezing fiscal 2011 spending at 2010 levels. The Senate bill boosts spending by $16 billion — a tough sell at a time when deficits and debt are dominating the policy debate in Washington.
In some cases, the spending bill rejects President Obama’s proposed cuts. For example, Mr. Obama asked Congress to cut funding for the Delta Health Initiative, which in 2010 received about $26 million for health care programs in eight states. The Senate bill increases funding for the program to nearly $35 million.
In further defiance of Mr. Obama, aides said, the bill funds an alternate production line for engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Mr. Obama has said he would veto any legislation that funded the second engine program, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said is not needed.
“Our military does not want or need these programs being pushed by the Congress, and should Congress ignore this fact, I will veto any such legislation, so that it can be returned to me without those provisions,” Mr. Obama said in a statement in May, when Congress was ramping up its budget process.
Senators also included their House colleagues’ requests for earmark spending after the House passed a bill devoid of pork. Still, earmarks total less than 1 percent of the budget.
The spending bills are two months overdue, since fiscal year 2011 began Oct. 1, and the government has been operating on stopgap funding.
Republicans, who are taking control of the House next year and increasing their numbers in the Senate, said they would prefer a short-term spending extension so that they can revisit the issue under the next Congress. House Democrats passed a long-term “continuing resolution” that mainly freezes 2010 spending for all of 2011.
Senate Democrats said they prefer to pass the omnibus bill, which they said would make sure spending is targeted and appropriate.
“While I appreciate the work that the House has done in producing a full-year continuing resolution, I do not believe that putting the government on autopilot for a full year is in the best interest of the American people,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat.
In a memo, the Appropriations Committee said the House approach fails to make $10.2 billion in cuts to what it considers wasteful military programs and fails to increase spending for needs that have emerged in the past year, such as more oversight of offshore oil-drilling rigs.
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