- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2010

Preparing for a final showdown on the massive $1.1 trillion spending bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended the thousands of earmarks in the measure as the basic function of Congress.

“That’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said as he chastised fellow senators who, while having requested pork-barrel spending earlier this year, are now decrying their inclusion in the spending bill.

Mr. Reid challenged those senators to voluntarily agree to strip their own earmarks out of the bill, and said so far, nobody has taken him up on that.

Earmarks are just one of the fights that have broken out over the 1,924-page spending bill, which Democrats unveiled this week and have said they’ll soon push to have lawmakers vote on.

As of noon, official copies of the bill were still not available in the Senate’s document room, though versions were available online and in the Congressional Record.

The earmarks and other unrequested spending items have put President Obama on the spot, too. He had earlier vowed to veto any bill that contained money for an alternate engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but on Thursday Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the bloated funding bill was better than simply extending last year’s spending measure.

“A year-long continuing resolution, as far as I’m concerned, for the Department of Defense is the worst of all possible worlds,” Mr. Gates said, referring to the stopgap measure likely to result if Congress fails to pass the massive spending bill. “The omnibus is not great, but it beats a year-long continuing resolution.”    

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has vowed to work against the bill — in which he had nearly 50 earmarks — and instead introduced a short-term stop-gap bill to keep the government funded through next year.

On the Senate floor on Thursday he repeatedly hefted an unofficial, printed-out version of the spending bill, and compared the scene to last year about this time, when the Capitol was also enveloped in a snowstorm and a massive bill — in that case the health care legislation — was dropped on senators’ desks.

“This bill is so enormous, it took the government printing office two days to print it. It spends more than half a billion dollars a page,” he said.

Democrats are determined to pass the measure as a last stamp on government before the GOP takes control of the House next year, likely dooming many top Democratic priorities.

One option for House Republicans could be to refuse to accept any of the Senate’s earmarks, which, combined with Mr. Obama’s stated opposition, would mean this year’s crop could be the last ones for some time.

Faced with that, Mr. Reid made a full-throated defense of the practice, arguing that the Constitution’s conferral of the power of the purse on Congress means that lawmakers should direct money home to specific projects.

“I do not want to give up more power to the White House,” he said.

Mr. Reid appealed for an end to “mean-spirited talk” in the discussion over earmarks, just moments after he accused Republicans of being hypocrites.

When a reporter asked if that couldn’t be construed as mean-spirited in itself, he smiled and said, “could be.”

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