Senate panel approves TARP reduction

The Senate Budget Committee Thursday continued its markup of the fiscal 2011 budget resolution, passing an amendment from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to eliminate $44 billion in unobligated Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.

"Let's take this money off the table," Graham said, arguing it could be spent for purposes that were not in line with the TARP program, which was designed to stabilize the financial industry.

The Graham amendment passed 12-11 and complicated an attempt by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to eliminate all remaining TARP authorization, except $30 billion in small-business lending.

Begich said instead of funding it out of TARP, he would offer an amendment to include in the resolution a reserved fund for small-business lending if money can be found.

The panel also approved, 15-8, an amendment from Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would call on Congress to pay for the additional cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over 10 years.

The committee rejected an amendment, 13-10, from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have imposed caps on discretionary spending for five years.

Democrats opposed the amendment because the caps could further reduce funding for programs beyond the three-year nonsecurity spending freeze in the budget.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, sought to rescind $42 billion in unobligated stimulus funds, but the panel defeated the proposal, 13-10.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., opposed the amendment, arguing that while some of the remaining funds are technically unobligated, much of it has been awarded. He said that one reason for this discrepancy is that the OMB does not consider funds obligated until contracts have been signed.

An amendment from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to include reconciliation instructions in the spending plan failed 13-10. Ensign's amendment would have instructed the Judiciary Committee to find $13.6 billion in savings, which he expects them to find by passing legislation that would crack down on frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.

Conrad opposed the proposal because he argued the committee does not have the authority to tell the Judiciary Committee what to use the instruction for.

An amendment from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to include the debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was also rejected 13-10.

Conrad argued that including that debt on the federal government's books would reduce "the motivation for them to reduce their own debt."

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