Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Broken Campaign Promises Meets Bad Economics

Senate Passes $410B Spending Bill

WASHINGTON--The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress on Tuesday approved a $410 billion bill to fund most of the government through September 30, sending it to President Barack Obama despite Republican objections to the price tag.

After a contentious fight the Senate, by voice vote, approved the bill which funds the departments of transportation and agriculture, among others. It also begins to roll back strict limits on travel and trade with Cuba -- a move Obama supports.

"It takes care of these government agencies that have been, over the Bush years, so underfunded," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, referring to President George W. Bush's administration.

Many Republicans fought the measure because it raised government spending by 8% above fiscal 2008 levels. They said it added more money to programs already funded by the $787 billion economic stimulus package approved last month.

The debate, at times full of bitter partisan rancor over the U.S. embargo on Cuba and abortion, foreshadows even bigger fights over Obama's $3.55 trillion 2010 budget and overhauling healthcare, which Congress will turn to in the coming weeks.

Senators from both parties objected to billions of dollars for lawmakers' pet projects, but rejected several attempts to freeze the spending at last year's levels and strip out so-called earmarks.

"The bill costs far too much for a government that should be watching every dime," said Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who called the legislation a "missed opportunity" to restrain spending amid a deep recession.

Republicans were able to slow the legislation down and get more amendments considered, but none were adopted. Amendments also rejected include ending automatic pay raises for lawmakers and scrapping language that Republicans said would end a Washington, D.C. school voucher program.

The extra debate gave the Obama administration time to address concerns by two senators about the Cuba provisions. Two Democrats, Senators Bill Nelson of Florida and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, were against the bill until the administration offered their views about the provisions.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote to the senators saying that the provisions about doing business with Cuba would not amount to a major reversal of the decades-old U.S. policy of isolating the communist-run island.

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