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House approves $1.1 trillion spending measure

Andrew Taylor | The Associated Press via YellowBrix

December 11, 2009

The measure contains 5,224 so-called earmarks totaling $3.9 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. Republicans and Democrats share in the largesse, which includes grants to local police departments, money for road and bridge projects, and community and economic development grants.

Democrats made no apologies for the spending increases, saying that domestic programs starved under eight years of President George W. Bush.

“I see these bills as an opportunity to reverse years of neglect _ neglect to our roads and bridges, neglect to our lower-income neighbors and friends, neglect to our education system, neglect to our veterans,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Democrats forced a $151 million cut to Obama’s almost $2.8 billion request for economic and security aid to Afghanistan this week. Obama’s $1.6 billion request for aid to Pakistan would be cut $124 million. But Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. _ a top skeptic about the Afghanistan war _ said the cuts were not intended as a rebuke to Obama.

For the more than 2,000 Chrysler and GM dealers closed or facing closure, the bill would offer an improved binding arbitration process to challenge the automakers’ decisions. It also renewed for two more years a federal loan guarantee program for steel companies.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, protested a provision to let Amtrak passengers carry handguns in their checked baggage, provided the guns are unloaded and locked in a secure container. The policy would go into place within a year.

The bill caps a heated debate over Obama’s order to close the Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba. It would permit detainees held at Guantanamo to be transferred to the United States to stand trial but not to be released.

Republicans also blasted moves by Democrats to drop several social policy provisions that conservatives had championed for years. A long-standing ban on the funding of abortion by the District of Columbia government would be overturned, igniting strong opposition from anti-abortion lawmakers. The bill also overturns a ban on federal money for needle exchange programs in the city, phases out a D.C. school voucher program favored by Republicans and opens the door for the city to permit medical marijuana.

It would also lift a nationwide ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs.

Federal workers would receive pay increases averaging 2 percent, with people in areas with higher living costs receiving slightly higher increases.

Republicans claimed the measure would mean a 33 percent increase for foreign aid and the State Department, but once war-related funding and emergency funding shuffles are taken into account, the increase is more like 10 to 15 percent. A Democratic press release actually claims a modest overall spending cut but then lists a host of sizable gains when describing specific programs.

The increases to foreign aid were not directed at individual countries as much as initiatives such as health programs, food aid and developmental assistance for poor countries, and funding for additional foreign service officers.

The Senate voted 56-43 to take up the measure, short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a GOP filibuster. But Democratic leaders are confident several senior GOP members of the Appropriations Committee will support the measure when a 60-vote threshold is needed, most likely Satuday.

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

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