- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

UPDATED:

Senate Democrats beat back a series of Republican proposed changes to a $410 billion omnibus spending bill Thursday, but they couldn’t muster enough votes to block more amendments as final consideration was postponed until next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, had planned on passing the package Thursday night but could not secure adequate support to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to cut off debate and allow a final roll-call vote.

“We would be a vote short,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “And, with my being a vote counter, discretion is the better part of valor.”

Republicans insisted on offering at least a dozen more amendments Monday that Mr. Reid said he would “work hard to defeat.”

The omnibus package, which funds most federal agencies until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, would replace a stopgap measure that expires Friday.

The House is expected to pass another temporary spending measure Friday, followed by Senate approval, to keep the government running until Tuesday.

The House passed the omnibus last week but would have to revisit the legislation if changed by the Senate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she would instead take up a continuing resolution to fund the government at 2008 levels until the end of the year.

The threat forced Mr. Reid to hold the line on amendments - a labor that now will continue.

Republicans and several Democrats who broke with their party over the pork-laden omnibus bill balked at the price tag, which boosts spending 8 percent over 2008 levels and comes amid a frenzy of spending by President Obama and the Democrat-led Congress.

Raising members’ ire are more than 9,000 earmarks costing $12.8 billion for lawmakers’ pet projects in the omnibus package. Democrats say it is less than 1 percent of the bill and a trivial complaint.

Mr. Reid has kept rank-and-file members in line to help defeat Republican amendments, which would have trimmed the bill or preserved Bush administration programs gutted in the legislation through funding cuts and policy riders.

Most Democrats and a couple of Republicans are expected to ultimately help the bill clear the 60-vote hurdle. But conservative Democrats uncomfortable with the spending could then go on record as opposing the bill when it goes to a vote on the merits and requires just a simple majority of the 100-member chamber.

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

It also is a forerunner of the president’s $3.55 trillion budget for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

“It doesn’t include the president’s budget, the housing proposal or untold trillions to stabilize financial markets and other programs,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Our children and grandchildren … will be the ones left to pay off the federal government credit card that Democrats in Congress are busy maxing out.”

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

The White House said Monday that it would release new rules for earmarks before signing the omnibus bill, a proposal that quickly exposed a rift with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

The Republican amendments shot down Thursday included a move to ban U.S. dollars going to a U.N. family planning program that critics say promotes abortion, one of more than a dozen Bush administration policies being erased in the omnibus spending bill.

The sponsor of the defeated measure, Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, said it would prevent taxpayer dollars helping the U.N. Population Fund support forced sterilization and abortion as part of China’s one-child policy.

“The United States must side with the women and children that have been victimized by China’s one-child policy,” Mr. Wicker said.

Democrats insisted that language in the bill already prohibits money from going to programs that support abortion or forced sterilization.

“The amendment is unnecessary,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said during debate. “None of us are going to permit the use of federal funds for involuntary sterilization.”

The amendment died in a 55-39 vote, with three Democrats siding with 36 Republicans in support, while three Republicans joined 50 Democrats in opposition.


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