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Congress Readies Huge Year-End Spending Bill

Andrew Taylor | The Associated Press via YellowBrix

December 09, 2009

And in a victory for gun rights advocates, Amtrak passengers could carry handguns in their checked baggage. Amtrak riders who give the railroad 24 hours notice could transport firearms that are unloaded and in a securely locked container checked in a baggage car, giving them rights comparable to those enjoyed by airline passengers. The policy would go into place within a year.

The agreement was sealed at a House-Senate negotiating session Tuesday evening. A House vote could happen as early as Thursday. Summaries were released by the appropriations committees.

The measure is generous throughout, especially with foreign aid and State Department accounts, which receive a 33 percent increase to almost $49 billion. A program that delivers heating subsidies for the poor would receive $5.1 billion, almost 40 percent more than Obama requested.

Veterans medical programs would receive a 10 percent increase over current levels while the State Department would receive a 16 percent increase for diplomatic operations.

NASA would receive a $942 million boost, to $18.7 billion, and the Census Bureau’s budget would more than double, to $7.3 billion, to conduct next year’s national head count.

Republicans say Democrats are spending too much as the government runs deficits in the range of $1.4 trillion a year. Still, most are happy to join Democrats in claiming their share of thousands of home-state projects such as community development grants, rural health centers, road projects, and grants to local law enforcement agencies for new equipment.

For example, no sooner had the session closed than Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., issued press releases claiming credit for so-called earmarks such as $1 million to combat methamphetamine and $500,000 for police communications equipment upgrades for the City of Montgomery and Montgomery County.

Lawmakers largely rejected budget cuts unveiled by Obama in May. For example, Obama proposed killing the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which helps states with the cost of jailing illegal immigrants charged with crimes, budgeted at $400 million for the current year. The proposal would provide $330 million.

The budget for the White House drug “czar” to run a national media campaign, however, would be cut more than one-third, reflecting doubts about its effectiveness.

The bill covers Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs. Five other spending bills covering food and farm programs, the Energy Department and water projects, the environment and homeland security programs have already been passed and signed by the president.

A $626 billion measure funding the Pentagon would advance later and is likely to carry a variety of wrap-up legislation.

(Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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