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Senate OKs spending bill

The $1.1 trillion measure leaves one more package to be approved.

WASHINGTON - The Senate yesterday passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill with increased budgets for vast areas of the federal government, including health, education, law enforcement, and veterans' programs.

The more-than-1,000-page package, one of the last essential chores of Congress this year, passed, 57-35, and now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The weekend action underlined the legislative crush faced by Congress as it tries to wind up the year.

After the vote, the Senate immediately returned to the debate on health-care legislation that has consumed its time and energy for weeks. Senate Democrats hope to reach a consensus in the coming days on Obama's chief domestic priority.

The spending bill combines six of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the 2010 budget year that began Oct. 1. Obama has signed five others into law.

The final one, a $626 billion defense bill, will be used as the base bill for another catch-all package of measures that Congress must deal with in the coming days. Those include action to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling and proposals to stimulate the job market.

The spending bill passed yesterday includes $447 billion for departments' operating budgets and about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Those programs under immediate control of Congress would see increases of about 10 percent.

The FBI gets $7.9 billion, a $680 million increase over 2009; the Veterans Health Administration budget goes from $41 billion to $45.1 billion; and the National Institutes of Health receive $31 billion, a $692 million increase.

All but three Democrats voted for the bill, while all but three Republicans opposed it. All area senators voted for it.

Democrats said the spending was critical to meet the needs of a recession-battered economy.

"Every bill that is passed, every project that is funded, and every job that is created helps America take another step forward on the road of economic recovery," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said after the vote.

Republicans, criticized as spendthrifts during President George W. Bush's administration, attacked the increases in the bill drafted by Democrats, forcing the Senate to debate the matter into the weekend.

"We have a $12 trillion debt, a debt that our children and grandchildren are going to have to pay, and here we are" approving a 12 percent spending increase, said Sen. George LeMieux, a Florida Republican. "Washington is out of control in its spending."

Republicans pointed to an estimated $3.9 billion in the bill for more than 5,000 local projects sought by individual lawmakers from both parties.

The Citizens Against Government Waste said those projects included construction of a county farmer's market in Kentucky, renovation of a historic theater in New York, and restoration of a mill in Rhode Island.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a longtime critic of such projects, said it was "shameful" that so many had found their way into the legislation. Most Americans, he said, were watching football and not the Senate debate, adding, "If they knew what we are about to pass . . ."

The legislation also contains numerous items not directly related to spending.

It provides help for auto dealers facing closure; ends a ban on District of Columbia government funding for abortions and allows the district to permit medical marijuana; lets Amtrak passengers carry unloaded handguns in their checked baggage; and permits detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to be transferred to the United States to stand trial, but not to be released.

The bill also approves a 2 percent pay increase for federal workers.

With the Senate concentrating on health care, attention on the forthcoming jobs plan shifts to the House.

The defense bill that will be the basis for the package normally enjoys wide bipartisan support, but Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats are unhappy with the prospect of another jolt of deficit-swelling spending.

Congress must soon raise the debt ceiling, now at $12.1 trillion, so the Treasury can continue to borrow, and Democratic leaders are eyeing a new figure close to $14 trillion, pushing the issue past next November's election.

But a bipartisan group in the Senate says a higher ceiling should be tied to the creation of a task force on deficit reduction, and House Democratic moderates said their votes could depend on winning a "pay-as-you-go" law requiring that new tax cuts or spending programs don't add to the deficit.

Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), on CNN's State of the Union, favored a deficit task force.

Warner said he did not "see how this process, where everybody kind of lards on, is going to actually ever come to an end unless we finally have the discipline to do a straight up-or-down vote across the board on revenues and spending cuts."

Proposals to put people back to work include tax breaks for new-company hires, small-business tax breaks, public works spending, and federal aid to states.

Congress is also likely to extend measures, included in the $787 billion stimulus act last February, that provide jobless payments and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.