WASHINGTON - Capitol Hill Democrats are muscling through a deficit-swelling spending bill, giving domestic programs their third major boost this year and awarding lawmakers with more than 5,000 back-home projects
The House passed the $1.1 trillion measure - combining $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid - by a 221-202 vote.
The Senate immediately voted to begin debate, with a final vote likely this weekend.
Not a single House Republican voted for the bill, and 28 Democrats, chiefly moderates and abortion opponents, opposed the measure.
The legislation provides spending increases averaging almost 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress. It comes on top of an infusion of cash to domestic agencies in February's economic stimulus bill and a $410 billion measure in March that also bestowed budget increases well above inflation.
Also yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) confirmed that the chamber would vote to raise the cap on government borrowing, currently set at $12.1 billion. The increase in the debt ceiling is likely to exceed $1.5 billion so that another politically excruciating vote to raise the limit won't be needed next year.
The deficit for the 2009 budget year registered $1.4 trillion, and a comparable deficit is expected for 2010 - and that's before Congress spends up to $100 billion to renew extended jobless payments and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and passes legislation intended to create jobs.
"When are we going to say, 'Enough is enough?' " said House GOP leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. "Let's stop the madness."
In fact, the gravy train may slow next year, assuming President Obama follows through on his promise to bring unsustainable trillion-dollar-plus deficits under control. His budget director has ordered agencies to brace for a spending freeze as part of a midterm election-year push to rein in record budget shortfalls.
The spending bill blends increases for veterans' programs, NASA and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers. It bundles together six of the 12 annual spending bills, capping a dysfunctional appropriations process in which House leaders blocked Republicans from debating key issues and Senate Republicans dragged out debates.
Just the $626 billion defense bill would remain. That is being held back to serve as a vehicle to advance must-pass legislation such as the debt increase.
The House measure also contains 5,224 so-called earmarks totaling $3.9 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. Republicans and Democrats alike share in the largesse, which includes grants to local police departments, money road and bridge projects, and community and economic development grants.
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.
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.
Republicans 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 antiabortion lawmakers. The bill would also lift a nationwide ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs.
Among the highlights of the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed yesterday:
a 15 percent increase.
for law enforcement.
The House legislation would also:
SOURCE: Associated Press
Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the spending bill yesterday were Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).
Voting against the bill were John Adler (D., N.J.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).