Senate OKs $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

Sunday, 13 Dec 2009 03:33 PM

 

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The Senate on Sunday passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill with increased budgets for vast areas of the federal government including health, education, law enforcement and veterans' programs.

The 1,000-page-plus package, one of the last essential chores of Congress this year, passed 57-35 and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The weekend action underlined the legislative crush faced by Congress as it tries to wind up the year. After the vote, the Senate immediately returned to debate on health care legislation that has consumed its time and energy for weeks. Senate Democrats hope to reach a consensus in the coming days on Obama's chief domestic priority.

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The spending bill combines six of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the 2010 budget year that began on Oct. 1. Obama has signed into law five others.

The final one, a $626 billion defense bill, is expected to attract proposals to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling and stimulate the jobs market.

The spending bill passed Sunday includes $447 billion for departments' operating budgets and about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs under immediate control of Congress would see increases of about 10 percent.

The FBI gets $7.9 billion, a $680 million increase over 2009; the Veterans Health Administration budget goes from $41 billion to $45.1 billion; the National Institutes of Health receives $31 billion, a $692 million increase.

Democrats said the spending was critical to meet the needs of a recession-battered economy. Republicans decried what they said was out-of control spending and pointed to an estimated $3.9 billion in the bill for more than 5,000 local projects sought by individual lawmakers from both parties.

The Citizens Against Government Waste said those projects included construction of a county farmer's market in Kentucky, renovation of a historic theater in New York and restoration of a mill in Rhode Island.

The legislation also contains numerous items not directly related to spending. It provides help for auto dealers facing closure, ends a ban on funding by the District of Columbia government for abortions, lets Amtrak passengers carry unloaded handguns in their checked baggage and permits detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to be transferred to the United States to stand trial, but not to be released.

The bill also approves a 2 percent pay increase for federal workers.

With the Senate concentrating on health care, attention on the upcoming jobs plan shifts to the House.

The defense bill that will be the basis for the package normally enjoys wide bipartisan support, but Republicans, and some fiscally conservative Democrats, are unhappy with the prospect of another jolt of deficit-swelling spending.

Congress must soon raise the debt ceiling, now at $12.1 trillion, so the Treasury can continue to borrow, and Democratic leaders are eyeing a new figure close to $14 trillion, pushing the issue past next November's election.

But a bipartisan group in the Senate says a higher ceiling should be tied to creation of a task force on deficit reduction, and House Democratic moderates say their votes could depend on winning a "pay-as-you-go" law requiring that new tax cuts or spending programs don't add to the deficit.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on CNN's "State of the Union," favored a deficit task force. He said he didn't "see how this process where everybody kind of lards on is going to actually ever come to an end unless we finally have the discipline to do a straight up-or-down vote across the board on revenues and spending cuts."

Proposals to put people back to work include tax breaks for new company hires, small business tax breaks, public works spending and federal aid to states.

Congress is also likely to extend measures, included in the $787 billion stimulus act last February, that provide jobless payments and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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