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The Senate Omnibus Arrives

December 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

On top of the tax deal, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the DREAM Act and the nuclear arms treaty, Congress has to pass spending legislation by this weekend to keep the government funded and avoid furloughs of federal employees. The House passed legislation last week to simply continue the current funding levels through the rest of the fiscal year, but the Senate wants to do it in a way that looks something like the regular appropriations process. That means we’re looking at thousands of earmarks, pet projects, and policy tweaks via budgeting.

The Senate released the details of their omnibus appropriations bill last night. It combines the 12 appropriations divisions that are usually done separately into one 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion mega-bill.

On the earmark front, early analyses indicate there are about 6,178 congressional-directed spending items in the bill at a cost of about $8 billion. This is actually a lot less earmarking than usual — last year, for example, the appropriations bills contained 9,499 earmarks at a cost of $15.9 billion — but a lot of folks are still calling it excessive because they view the midterm elections as having been about spending.

The top earmarkers in the omnibus are Sen. Thad Cochran [R, MS] with 230, Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS] with 199 and Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA] with 172.

Beyond earmarks proper, the omnibus contains pet projects that members have been pushing but haven’t secured yet. For example, there’s a new forest jobs bill in there that would mandate logging in some national parks, increased funding for border patrol agents, a brand new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and new nuclear loan guarantees.

The Hill reports that several Senate Republicans are planning to support the bill, so it should pass later this week when it comes up for a vote:

“That’s my intention,” said retiring Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) when asked if he would support the package.

Bennett said earmarks in the bill might give some of his GOP colleagues reason to hesitate but wouldn’t affect his vote.

“It will be tough for some, but not for me,” he said.

GOP Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and Susan Collins (Maine) also told The Hill on Tuesday they would consider voting for the omnibus but want to review it before making a final decision.

“I hope to be able to vote for one,” Bond said of the omnibus. “We’ve got to look what’s in it.

Pictured above is Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye [D, HI].

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