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« The 20 Days of Christmas | Main | Dispute Over Fried Chicken Ends in Assault With Crowbar »
Wednesday
Dec152010

All Hell is Breaking Loose

Republicans poring over a 1,924-page overarching spending bill proposed by Democrats to cover the rest of the fiscal year are threatening to grind the legislation to a halt, citing massive earmark spending, which, if passed, would be enacted into law without debate in the full Senate.Two sources who spoke to Fox News are describing the legislation as "a total mess."

But the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he believes the legislation must pass.

"The twelve bills included in this package fulfill the Congress' most basic responsibility, to exercise the power of the purse," he said in a statement. "This measure reflects a year's worth of work by members of both parties. Together, we have closely scrutinized the president's budget request, held hundreds of hearings, thousands of meetings, and asked literally tens of thousands of questions to each and every federal department and agency seeking justification for how taxpayer dollars are being spent."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, responded in a statement, saying that after neglecting to pass a budget, "today we learn Senate Democrats now want to sandwich them together, totaling almost 2,000 pages, and jam them through in the waning moments of this lame duck session before anyone can read them. This political end-around reveals just how quickly my colleagues across the aisle have already forgotten the voters' message in November."

Though none of the spending bills has passed the Senate, all the individual appropriations bills have been through the full committee process. In an afternoon release, the Appropriations Committee website listed all of the requested earmarks, winnowed into separate categories that go into making up the 12 separate annual spending bills.

In total, thousands of earmark requests are listed. The financial services earmark chart, for instance, lists 220 earmark requests from dozens of lawmakers, mostly in the House, each worth anywhere from $50,000 to $2.4 million. The largest sum was requested by Inouye and his Hawaii colleague Sen. Daniel Akaka for "Bank on USA" demonstration projects" in their state. The projects are designed to give underserved communities greater access to financial institutions.

Elsewhere, the Department of Defense earmark list, mostly requests by senators, is 29 pages long and individual requests more often are worth $2 million to $5 million each. In that list, Inouye's requests total more than $159 million, including  $21 million for a Hawaii Federal Health Care Network. Cornyn's defense spending earmarks total nearly $16 million.

The list was released after a Republican policy lunch that a source said was devolving into pandemonium.

"All hell is breaking loose," the source told Fox News, noting that Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina were expected to insist the omnibus bill be read in its entirety by the clerk on the Senate floor before a vote is held. They also were expected to seek debate on all earmarks and any amendments.

If the clerk follows the pace of last year's reading of the health care bill -- 53 pages an hour -- it will take almost 40 hours to read the omnibus bill.

A spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded that "all hell is not breaking loose just yet. But I'm sure there will be a robust conversation."

In a news conference, McConnell compared the omnibus bill to the health care legislation last year, calling it a big bill arriving amid cold weather and no one knowing exactly what's in it.

On top of Republican angst, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also is revolting against the Democratic-sponsored bill, saying she will not support an omnibus spending bill unless it includes an amendment proposed by McCaskill and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that calls for a three-year cap in discretionary spending. Democratic leaders told McCaskill on Monday that they would meet a one-year gap, which she rejected, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

But sources said Inouye was confident he had the votes needed to get the legislation passed and sent to the House.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1-Sept. 30. Currently, a continuing resolution, the stopgap measure to keep government operational until a budget is passed, is set to expire on Saturday. If another CR or the bill itself isn't passed and signed into law by President Obama by then, the government will shut down.

On the House side, Republican leader John Boehner is apparently warning that if the Senate sends over the bill as it is, "We will work to kill it." House Democrats had hoped to file a year-long CR at the previous year's rates.

Opponents of the package are finding support among conservative groups who describe the legislation as a Democratic attempt to lock in 2010's $3.5 trillion budget for the next year without allowing any spending cuts.

"Despite the dire fiscal crisis the nation faces, with a $13.8 trillion national debt that cannot be paid, and in spite of the American people who are demanding action to cut spending, Congress is busy voting to kick the can for yet another year. A vote for the continuing resolution is a vote for another trillion dollar-plus deficit, and that is simply unacceptable to all Americans. Any politician in Congress that has ever promised to reduce the deficit should vote 'no' on this continuing resolution," Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson said in a statement Tuesday.

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