The country voted for change

Instead, we’re just turbo-charging spending, spurred by Republicans and Democrats alike. The good news? I believe this is exactly what my fellow citizens wanted. So they asked for it and boy are we getting it!

The Senate appeared poised Thursday to send President Barack Obama a huge spending bill that awards big increases to domestic programs and is stuffed with pet projects sought by lawmakers in both parties. After some nervous moments, Democratic leaders seemed increasingly confident they would attract enough GOP votes to clear a critical 60-vote procedural hurdle and pass the sprawling measure Thursday night.

The $410 billion spending bill, spanning 1,122 pages, has an extraordinary reach, wrapping nine spending bills together to fund the annual operating budgets of every Cabinet department except for Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

And, to the embarrassment of Obama — who promised during last year’s campaign to force Congress to curb its pork-barreling ways — the bill contains 7,991 pet projects totaling $5.5 billion, according to calculations by the GOP staff of the House Appropriations Committee.

The earmarks run the gamut. There’s $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., $238,000 to fund a deep-sea voyaging program for native Hawaiian youth, agricultural research projects, and grants to local police departments, among many others.

Several lawmakers took to the floor during the week to defend their projects, including Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who backed $1.7 million for pig odor research. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., promised $3.8 million to preserve and redevelop part of old Tiger Stadium to help revitalize a distressed area of Detroit.

By a 52-42 vote, Democrats cleared the way for the Obama administration to reverse rules issued late in the Bush administration reverse that says greenhouse gases cannot be restricted in an effort to protect polar bears from global warming. Another Bush administration rule that reduced the input of federal scientists in endangered species decisions can also be quickly overturned without a lengthy rulemaking process.

The measure also reverses Bush administration policies that tightened rules on Cuba travel and allowed Mexican trucking firms broad access to U.S. highways. A program popular with Republicans that gives $7,500 private school scholarships to District of Columbia students as an alternative to the city’s troubled public schools is in danger of being shut down next year.

The big increases — among them a 21 percent boost for a popular program that feeds infants and poor women and a 10 percent hike for housing vouchers for the poor — represent a clear win for Democrats who spent most of the past decade battling with President George W. Bush over money for domestic programs.

Democrats abandoned the budget process last year, opting against veto battles with Bush and instead gambling that Obama would win the election and sign the massive bill into law.

Generous above-inflation increases are spread throughout, including a $2.4 billion, 13 percent increase for the Agriculture Department and a 10 percent increase for the money-losing Amtrak passenger rail system.

Congress also awarded itself a 10 percent increase in its own budget, bringing it to $4.4 billion. But the House inserted a provision denying lawmakers the automatic cost-of-living pay increase they are due next Jan. 1.

Still, the State Department and foreign aid accounts would receive a 12 percent boost.

Separately, the House on Thursday rejected an effort by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to launch an ethics committee investigation into possible connections between campaign contributions made by the PMA Group and special projects designated in the spending bill that benefit clients of the firm. The vote to table, or kill, Flake’s resolution was 222-181.

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