A massive spending bill that funds the U.S. government for the rest of the budget year passed the Senate on Tuesday despite complaints about nearly $8 billion in what critics called "pork-barrel" projects.
Senators voted 62-35 to cut off debate on the $410 billion measure and passed it on a voice vote immediately afterward. The omnibus spending bill includes more than 8,000 congressional “earmarks,” which total almost $8 billion. The earmarks have caused critics to question President Obama’s pledge to end wasteful spending, but Obama administration officials said the bill is a holdover from the previous Congress. “It is in America’s best interest to close the book on the last administration and let the new one hit the ground running,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But Sen. John McCain, a longtime critic of congressional spending and Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2008 election, said the vote shows “business as usual” remained the order of the day. “If the president were serious about his pledge for change, he would veto this bill. He won’t,” McCain said. The bill funds the U.S. government through September, when the 2008 budget year ends. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, postponed the vote last week because he wasn’t sure supporters had the 60 votes needed to break a potential GOP filibuster.
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The measure passed the House of Representatives last week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called the bill a “missed opportunity.” “In the midst of a serious economic downturn, the Senate had a chance to show it can impose the same kind of restraint on itself that millions of Americans are being forced to impose on themselves at the moment. … If the president is looking for a first bill to veto, this is it,” he said. He had said his preference would be to defeat the bill and put it back together at last year’s spending levels. McConnell has requested 36 “solo” earmarks — those without cosponsors — totaling $51 million in the bill, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. The group said only five senators have not requested any earmarks: Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma; Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina; Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin; John McCain, R-Arizona; and Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.
Some other senators have not requested any solo earmarks, but they have jointly requested funds with other lawmakers. Lawmakers on Monday night defeated an amendment from McCain that would have stripped the bill of most of its earmarks.