Top Republicans in Congress are surprisingly upbeat on the mammoth $515 billion spending bill that passed the House on Monday night, despite the fact that it includes no money to fund the troops in Iraq.
Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told a group of bloggers at The Heritage Foundation today that money for the troops in Iraq would be added separately, and that Republicans could “take credit” for holding spending to levels that were significantly lower than what the Democrats had initially planned.
Showing off a 2-foot high stack of paper that represented just part of the omnibus spending bill, Rep. Blunt said there was “a gold mine of opportunity to find bad things in this bill,” and that his office had set up a “war-room” type operation to expose the thousands of pork-laden earmarks that got included during closed-door negotiations among Democrats.
“This bill, as tall as it is, as bulky as it is, does not fund our troops in Iraq,” Blunt said.
While the spending bill does approve $30 million to fund military operations in Afghanistan, in its current form it includes a “specific prohibition” on spending any of that money to fund the troops in Iraq.
Democratic leaders in the House have urged their members to point to four key “wins” in the spending bill: higher gas mileage requirements for U.S. automakers (known as CAFÉ standards), increases in funding for K-12 education, Pell Grants, and raising the minimum wage.
“This bill is a bigger disappointment to the Democrats than we would have expected, given that they do control both the House and the Senate,” Blunt said. “This Congress has spent more time in Washington, voted more times, and produced less, than any Congress in decades.”
When he presented the Democrat bill on Sunday, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., slammed President Bush for refusing to cave in to Democrat demands that he sign a budget bill that eliminated funding for the war in Iraq.
Nevertheless, Obey said that Democrats should be proud of increasing money for K-12 education, Pell Grants, vocation education, and highway infrastructure to levels well above the president’s initial budget request.
To keep spending within the president’s limits of a 6.5 percent increase in overall government spending over last year, the Democrats had to sacrifice many of their pet programs.
“There is no such thing as a good omnibus,” Rep. Joe Hensarling, R-Texas, told the Heritage bloggers.
“But relative to where they wanted to take spending, this is a far better bill than I would ever have anticipated with Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate,” he added.
Hensarling pointed out that when House speaker Nancy Pelosi was minority leader, she said that forcing members to vote on an omnibus bill “was tantamount to martial law and abuse of power.”
And yet, now that she was in charge, she was doing precisely that.
Democratic Majority leader Steny Hoyer was also highly critical of omnibus spending bills when Republicans were in charge.
In December 2003, Hoyer said such legislation “subverts the will of the people’s Congress,” and called them “an embarrassment to the democratic process” because Congress was bowing to the will of the White House.
“Mr. Speaker, the congressional branch does not work for the executive branch. This is not a kingdom; this is not a dictatorship,” Hoyer said in a Dec. 8, 2003 floor speech that is still available on his Web site.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told bloggers that Republicans in Congress had wanted to keep the spending increase to 2 percent this year, but were hamstrung by the president’s budget request, which called for overall growth of 6.5 percent.
Almost all of that increase was in defense and counterterrorism spending. According to the White House, the president’s budget “holds growth in non-security discretionary spending to 1 percent, well below the rate of inflation.”
Sen. Coburn was critical of the way the Democrat budget negotiators shifted spending priorities.
Under the Democrats’ omnibus bill, “we still transfer funds from things that help people be responsible to things that help them be irresponsible,” he said.
“There is still not one agency that’s been eliminated, and the things that work, they’ve eliminated, while the things that don’t, they’ve doubled,” he added.
Like other Republicans, Sen. Coburn blasted the process of negotiating behind closed doors, without any input from the minority.
Money to build a fence along portions of the U.S. border with Mexico was cut by $170 million. “That’s the problem with a bill that’s bigger than the Bible or the Quran or Webster’s dictionary, and that we get a day to read,” he said.
“The ones who want to spend money know exactly what’s in this bill,” he added.
The Heritage Foundation has set up a special Web site, omnibusting.com, where its experts are exposing the “tricks, gimmicks and earmarks stuffed into the mammoth omnibus spending bill.”
Heritage Foundation experts have identified 9,241 earmarks in the Omnibus budget bill, totaling just over $23.5 billion.
Here is the aggregate, broken down by executive branch department.
Division A - Agriculture – 623 projects, with $402,098,000
Division B - Commerce, Justice, Science – 1,792 projects, worth $810,947,165
Division C - Energy and Water – 1,378 projects, worth $6,411,952,500
Division D - Financial Services – 218 projects, worth $1,001,282,000
Division E - Homeland Security – 126 projects, worth $423,651,119
Division F - Interior, Environment – 556 projects, worth $623,362,000
Division G - Labor, HHS, Edu – 2,241 projects, worth $996,716,800
Division H - Legislative – 4 projects, worth $400,000
Division I - Military – 191 military construction projects, worth $9,998,406,000
Division J - State – NONE
Division K - Transport, HUD – 2,112 projects, worth $2,839,626,669
Total, Without State Dept - $23,508,442,253
[Information compiled by the Heritage Foundation]
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