- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Senate on Tuesday shot down a Republican measure that would have frozen federal spending at 2008 levels for the current fiscal year, preferring to stick with an omnibus package that increases spending by about 8 percent.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said during the debate that the spending-freeze amendment would have been the same as “looking backward, going in reverse. It doesn’t make sense.”

Democrats said higher sending was vital to responding to the economic crisis.

The amendment, which Sen. John McCain offered to replace the $410 billion omnibus bill that would fund most of the government until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, died in a 32-63 vote.

Nine Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents in opposing the amendment, while two Democrats broke ranks to support it.

That leaves the Senate debating an omnibus appropriations bill that would replace stopgap funding that expires Friday. The Democrat-led Congress must approve the omnibus or another temporary measure by then or else the federal government will shut down.

Tuesday’s vote came a day after Mr. McCain of Arizona, the defeated Republican presidential nominee, railed on the Senate floor against President Obama’s support for the pork-laden omnibus, saying Mr. Obama broke his promise to change Washington and settled for “business as usual.”

Mr. McCain’s amendment also would have killed about 9,000 earmarks costing $12.8 billion for lawmakers’ pet projects in the omnibus package

“Americans are having to tighten their belts,” Mr. McCain said Tuesday during debate on the amendment. “No time is more important than now to show the American people that we are ready to tighten our belts.”

Despite President Obama’s oft-stated distaste for earmark pork and the ways of Washington, the White House said it will not take a stand against the projects because the legislation originated under the previous administration and therefore represents the final Bush budget bill.

But the White House said Monday it will release new rules for earmarks prior to signing the omnibus bill, though details of the rules remain under wraps.

“The president is going to draw some very clear lines about what’s going to happen going forward,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. “The rules of the road going forward for those many appropriations bills that will go through Congress and come to his desk will be done differently.”

The House passed the omnibus last week, though any changes the Senate makes to the bill will require another House vote.

Republican leaders criticized the omnibus as more of Democrats’ “borrow-and-spend” governing and noted that the omnibus heaps funding on about 122 programs previously funded by the $787 billion economic stimulus.

“We need to slow down, and make sure the American people understand how we intend to spend their tax dollars,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “The omnibus is a massive bill; it demands our close attention.”

The omnibus is one of a series of spending bills expanding the federal deficit to record levels. It comes close on the heels of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout under President Bush and Mr. Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus.

It is also the forerunner of Mr. Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

Democrats have said the omnibus was necessary only because of Mr. Bush’s veto threat last year for any appropriation bills that exceeded his spending limit. They said Mr. Bush’s programs would have been funded through the end of the fiscal year if he had allowed added spending for some of the Democrats’ priorities.

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