GOP Slams 6,000 Earmarks in Trillion-Dollar Omnibus Spending Bill

Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010 02:14 PM

By David A. Patten

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Republicans are blasting a last-ditch Democratic effort to pass a massive spending bill laden with about 6,000 earmarks as a “smack in the face to taxpayers.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fired away at the bill from the floor of the Senate, saying it “repeats all the mistakes voters demanded that we put an end to on Election Day.”

“Americans told Democrats last month to stop what they’ve been doing: bigger government, 2,000-page bills jammed through on Christmas Eve, wasteful spending.”

Most Democrats are rallying around the bill, however, seeing it as perhaps their last opportunity to get pet spending projects passed before the 112th Congress takes office. In both the House and Senate, incoming Republicans have agreed to ban earmark requests.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada praised the 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill Tuesday as “a very good piece of legislation.” Reid hopes to bring the bill up for a vote this week. House Democrats would vote on it on Saturday.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, tells Newsmax that virtually no member of Congress has time to read the massive omnibus legislation. Even worse, he says, is that the joint explanatory statement that explains the specifics of the spending request has not yet been published, he says. That document will be more than 1,000 pages as well.

“That’s how you actually find out how the money have been sliced and diced across the various programs and accounts,” Ellis says. “It’s clearly not going to be made available to the public much before the Senate votes on it, and we’re all being asked to buy a $1.1 trillion pig in a poke.

“They had all year to get this thing done, and done in a manner that was at least partially intelligible to the public and to the budget watchers,” Ellis tells Newsmax. “Instead, we have this enormous sausage that they’re trying to stuff through, really virtually sight unseen.”

Republicans say they will push for a continuing resolution in place of the huge omnibus bill. But the GOP push to stop the bill may fall short because of  defections from within their own caucus.

Republican senators such as Kit Bond of Missouri and Bob Bennett of Utah don’t have to worry about running for re-election. Both sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee that crafted the omnibus.

“This is exactly the kind of secretive, pork-laden, massive spending bill that’s driven approval of Congress to an all-time low, and induced a voter rebellion last month,” Brian Riedl, lead budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation, tells Newsmax.

harry,reid,earmarksLegislative experts say the omnibus bill reflects the inability of Congress to fund government operations in an efficient manner.

Because the 111th Congress was unable to pass a spending bill in a timely way, Democratic strategists rolled 12 separate bills into one omnibus measure.

Keeping everything in one bill makes it more difficult to excise specific provisions that legislators find objectionable. But it also results in a mammoth piece of legislation that may go unread until months after the bill becomes law.

Unsatisfied with the simple continuing resolution the House passed that would keep the government running until the next Congress takes over in January, the Senate is proposing the earmark-laden omnibus as one last spending hurrah before legislators leave town. Grass-roots conservatives are particularly angry that the bill includes $1 billion to fund the healthcare bill that may be unconstitutional, based on a judge’s ruling in Virginia this week.

Because the authorization for government spending is expiring, Republicans could be accused of shutting down the government if they are able to block the omnibus bill. But GOP senators say they would be happy to vote for a continuing authorization such as the one already passed by the House.

Among the 6,000 earmarks the media has uncovered so far in the massive legislation the Senate is trying to push through just weeks after Democrats sustained their work landslide of the post-World War II era:

  • Literal pork: Almost $350,000 is earmarked to study the management of swine waste in North Carolina.
  • $235,000 for the management of invasive weeds in Nevada.
  • $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. Founded in 1973, the society sails a “voyaging” boat throughout the Pacific, studying how ancient Polynesian people settled far-flung lands.
  • Funds are devoted to a variety of agricultural needs, including research of maple syrup in Vermont, control of potato pests in Wisconsin, the development of virus-resistant grapes in Washington state, and peanut cultivation research in Alabama.
  • $80 million for states and Indian tribes to pay for preservation of Pacific salmon.
  • $13 million for clean-water initiatives in rural villages in Alaska.
  • $450,000 for the World Food Prize.
  • $500,000 for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.
  • $200,000 to install solar panels at a food bank in Arizona.
If the bill passes Congress, it would be up to the president to decide whether to accept it.

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime foe of the earmark practice, signed onto a letter last week asking Obama to veto the measure. Boehner issued a statement on Tuesday blasting the bill as a “smack in the face to taxpayers.”

There are two provisions in the bill that Obama may oppose. One would effectively block civilian trials of Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the United States, while another would allocate $450 million for development of a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he will urge the president to veto any bill that contains money for a second engine, which the Pentagon says it does not want.

In what some saw as a statement suggesting the president would be reluctant to veto the bill, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday:

“Obviously one of the things that has to be done before Congress leaves is how we’re going to pay for the operation of government going forward.”
GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is threatening to mount a filibuster, and may insist that all 1,924 pages of the bill be read into the record before any vote is taken.

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