Big spending measure set for House vote irks GOP

Democrats give US programs another boost

By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / December 11, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Capitol Hill Democrats are muscling through a deficit-swelling spending bill, giving domestic programs their third major boost this year and awarding lawmakers with more than 5,000 back-home projects.

The House approved the 1,088-page, $1.1 trillion measure - combining $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid - by a 221-to-202 vote yesterday. The Senate immediately voted to begin debate, with a final vote likely this weekend.

Not a single House Republican voted for the bill. Some 28 Democrats, chiefly moderates and abortion opponents, opposed the measure.

The measure would provide spending increases averaging almost 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress. It comes on top of an infusion of cash to domestic agencies in February’s economic stimulus bill and a $410 billion measure in March that also bestowed budget increases well above inflation.

Also yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, confirmed that the chamber will vote to raise the cap on government borrowing, currently set at $12.1 billion. The hike in the debt ceiling could exceed $1.5 billion so that another politically excruciating vote to raise it won’t be needed next year.

The deficit for the 2009 budget year registered $1.4 trillion and a comparable deficit is expected for 2010 - and that’s before Congress spends up to $100 billion to renew extended jobless payments and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and passes legislation intended to create jobs.

The gravy train may slow next year, assuming President Obama follows through on his promise to bring unsustainable trillion-dollar-plus deficits under control. His budget director has ordered agencies to brace for a spending freeze as part of a midterm election-year push to rein in record budget shortfalls.

The spending bill blends increases for veterans’ programs, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers. It bundles six of the 12 annual spending bills, capping a dysfunctional appropriations process in which House leaders blocked Republicans from debating key issues and Senate Republicans dragged out debates.

Just the $626 billion defense bill would remain. That is being held back to serve as a vehicle to advance must-pass legislation such as the debt increase.

The measure also contains 5,224 so-called earmarks totaling $3.9 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. Republicans and Democrats alike share in the largesse, which includes grants to local police departments, money for road and bridge projects, and community and economic development grants.