March 11, 2009 in Nation/World

Senate approves spending bill

$410 billion measure imperfect but essential, Gibbs said
Michael Muskal Los Angeles Times

Washington state projects in bill

 The Omnibus Appropriations Bill has millions of dollars for programs in Washington, including money for a nursing school, an overpass and a project to reduce homelessness in Spokane, Sen. Patty Murray said Tuesday after voting for the measure.

 Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., both sent out lists of programs and projects included in the bill. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, voted to block the measure, saying it was full of wasteful spending. They didn’t include any lists of Idaho projects, and a breakdown for the state wasn’t immediately available.

 Spending in Eastern Washington includes:

 •$1,288,200 to the Pullman Transit agency for five new low-floor buses

 •$1,047,000 for the nursing school at Washington State University – Spokane

 •$475,000 for the University Place Pedestrian Safety Overpass at Riverpoint Campus

 •$475,000 to expand the YWCA’s Youth Development Program

 •$475,000 for the Northeast Community Center’s expansion project

 •$475,000 to the WSU Freight Transportation Policy Institute to study transportation, energy and the economy

 •$271,000 to renovate a building for physical and occupational therapy programs at Community Colleges of Spokane

 •$237,500 for the Inland Pacific Hub Analysis Project of the Spokane Regional Transportation Council

 •$142,500 to the city of Spokane for its Homeless Rapid Rehousing Initiative

 •$95,000 to the Spokane County Medical Society Foundation for charity care

 The bill also contains $80 million for Pacific Northwest salmon restoration, $2 million for coastal weather radar and money for programs to combat methamphetamine-related crimes.

The Senate on Tuesday passed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that critics say also includes billions of dollars of political pork.

The bill, which will fund most Cabinet departments and some other federal agencies for 2009, passed in a voice vote after senators voted, 62-35, to end debate.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier that President Barack Obama would sign the bill despite questions about spending priorities. The administration considers it old business that should have been resolved before Obama took over the Oval Office.

Republicans and some Democrats have questioned the bill, which includes as much as an estimated $7.7 billion in earmarks – funding sought by legislators for favored projects. Some call such spending political pork, while other lawmakers have defended the special spending because it goes to pay for needed local projects.

During the presidential campaign, Obama and GOP nominee John McCain both said they opposed earmarks. McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, repeatedly attacked the spending bill.

“Somehow it has been accepted around here that earmarks are a standard practice,” McCain told his colleagues Tuesday. “This evil has grown and grown and grown” over the years.

“The message is that it is business as usual here in Washington, while unemployment is 8.1 percent,” McCain said. “If the president were serious about his pledge for change, he would veto this bill. He won’t.”

The Obama administration has said it would recommend changes for future spending and appropriations measures, but that the president viewed this bill as essential. Obama has “no second thoughts” about signing it, Gibbs said.

“I bet many presidents have signed bills that may not meet 100 percent of their desires,” Gibbs told reporters in the televised briefing. “This stuff should have been done before Sen. Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama and certainly before he became President Barack Obama.”

Gibbs said the bill was not perfect, but that the president was committed to changing the process. “There’ll be some new rules of the road,” Gibbs said.

Those new criteria could come as soon as today, he said.

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