Senate omnibus spending bill laden with earmarks

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, on Tuesday unveiled a $1.108 trillion omnibus spending package that he hopes to substitute for a House-passed, year-long continuing resolution -- an 11th-hour legislative gambit to close the books on fiscal 2011 appropriations.

"While I appreciate the work that the House has done in producing a full year continuing resolution, I do not believe that putting the government on autopilot for a full year is in the best interest of the American people," Inouye said in a release.

His comments come after the House last week passed a CR that includes no earmarks and would cap discretionary spending at $1.089 trillion, the same as fiscal 2010.

Defying the White House, the omnibus includes $450 million to keep an alternate-engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter alive, which the Pentagon says it doesn't want or need.

Neither the Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the fiscal 2011 Defense authorization bill nor the Senate Appropriations Committee's version of the Defense spending bill for this year include money for the General Electric/Rolls Royce engine program.

But the engine has strong support among influential senators, including Inouye and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Despite opposition from both the Obama and Bush administrations, lawmakers have continued funding the engine program for years, arguing that competition between two teams of engine makers will improve whichever engine is built into the plane and reduce costs.

House Democratic appropriators, who favor an omnibus, passed the CR as a backstop in case Senate Democrats are unable to pass Inouye's package.

But Inouye said Tuesday he believes he has more than the 60 votes that will be needed to clear GOP procedural hurdles.

"The substitute amendment I introduce today represents the bipartisan work of the committee," Inouye said. "The 12 bills included in this package fulfill the Congress's most basic responsibility, to exercise the power of the purse."

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and others are devising a plan to require that the entire 1,924-page bill be read aloud on the Senate floor -- a move that could delay a final vote and would force Congress to pass another short-term funding bill. The current stopgap CR expires Saturday.

Some Republicans, including DeMint, are pushing for a CR through early next year, when the House will be under Republican control and the Democratic majority in the Senate will shrink, allowing Republicans to put more of a stamp on spending for fiscal 2011.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, the presumptive speaker, recommended that President Obama veto the bill. "If President Obama is truly serious about ending earmarks, he should oppose Senate Democrats' pork-laden omnibus spending bill and announce he will veto it if necessary," Boehner said.

The package includes roughly $8 billion in earmarks, including some from staunch Republican opponents to the package.

Asked if he would seek to have the millions in earmarks he requested removed from the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- an unabashed earmarker before changing his position last month to support a voluntary, two-year GOP caucus earmark ban -- would only reiterate his opposition to the omnibus.

"Well, I am actively working to defeat it," McConnell said. "I think there are many members of the Senate who have provisions in it for their states who are also actively working to defeat it. This bill should not go forward."

Other earmarks in the package include $8 million secured by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for the Port of Anchorage Intermodal Expansion Project within the Defense appropriations section of the omnibus.

Inouye secured one of the largest earmarks in the defense section-$21 million for the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network.

All told, Defense earmarks run 30 pages. But that pales in comparison to the 98 pages in earmarks under the Labor-HHS sections, or the 90 pages of earmarks in the Transportation-HUD section.

A preliminary analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense found 6,600 congressionally disclosed earmarks in the omnibus worth $8 billion. That compares to 9,400 congressionally disclosed earmarks in the fiscal 2010 spending bills worth $10 billion.

The omnibus spending package also includes long-stalled food safety legislation. The language is identical to the food safety bill included in the House-passed continuing resolution measure, which includes fixes the House made to certain fees in the bill to avoid constitutional problems after the Senate passed the legislation.

A lobbyist following the bill said prospects for passing the food safety bill on a long-term continuing resolution or an omnibus were high, but if Congress takes up a shorter bill, the bill's passage was less certain.

The omnibus also would prevent detainees held at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from being brought to the United States, but it includes a loophole that could be used to get by the restriction.

The bill includes a provision stating that no funds may be used to transfer or release into the United States any detainee held at the Guantanamo prison on or after June 24, 2009. The language basically mirrors that which House lawmakers put into a stop-gap funding measure they approved last week.

The Senate bill includes language not found in the House measure that could help the Obama administration, though. Specifically, the Senate bill states that the prohibition on bringing detainees to the United States can be superseded by the defense authorization bill -- if such a bill were to be enacted.

In other words, the administration would be able to bring detainees to the United States if the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill allows it and is enacted into law.

Meanwhile, of the funding provided for the 12 annual spending bills that make up the measure, $667.7 billion would be provided for Defense appropriations, $75.6 billion for Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs spending, and $43.5 billion for Homeland Security spending.

The $667.7 billion for Defense is $10.3 billion below the White House base budget request, but more than the $636.3 billion provided for fiscal 2010; the Military Construction-VA funding level is $1 billion below the enacted level, and $419 million less than what the White House sought. Funding for Homeland Security was about $350 less than requested by Obama and nearly $900 million less than provided in fiscal 2010.

If the Senate passes the omnibus bill, it would then go to the House where Democrats hope to pass the measure before Saturday, when a stopgap funding measure expires.

Megan Scully, Chris Strohm, and Meghan McCarthy contributed to this report.

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