Senate Votes Down Amendments, Final Vote Likely Today

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The Senate Monday evening voted down more amendments Republicans sought to attach to a $410 billion FY09 omnibus spending package, including a proposal from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would prohibit omnibus funds from being spent on earmarks that are not listed and provided for in the text of the bill.


Thirty-two senators voted for the amendment, 63 voted against.


McCain reiterated his call for President Obama to veto the bill, so that the nearly 9,000 earmarks of the bill, which total $7.7 billion, could be better scrutinized by Congress.


He continued his mocking of some of the projects, including $1.9 million for the Pleasure Beach water taxi service in Connecticut, adding that they are "things that certainly do not have a priority for the American people at this time."


The omnibus would increase spending over FY08 by about 8 percent, or roughly $30 billion. The package is made up of the nine FY09 appropriations bills Congress has not approved. Federal programs under the bill are being funded by a continuing resolution at FY08 levels. The CR expires Wednesday.


Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said fighting for funds for constituents is among a lawmaker's most important jobs.


"Candidly, why be an appropriator if you can't help your state?" Feinstein asked. "I think all of this dialogue is really misplaced. ...We make ourselves impotent as a co-equal branch of government if there is no ability, where necessary, to add to the budget."


Feinstein warned that adopting any amendments would kill the bill, which she said contains needed funding. "If the Senate approved any of these ... amendments, this bill dies," Feinstein said. "The bill has been passed by the House, the House has said it would take no amendments; the bill is over here and we have a number of amendments, many of which some of us would like to vote for, but cannot."


McCain's amendment was one of 12 Majority Leader Reid agreed to allow Republicans between Monday and today, when the Senate is expected to vote to cut off debate and proceed to final passage. Reid pulled the plug on a vote scheduled last week when he realized he probably did not have the 60 votes to invoke cloture.


By allowing amendments, Reid appears poised to pick up votes for cloture from several Republicans, mostly on the Appropriations Committee, who appear to back the bill but had said Thursday they opposed ending debate before other GOP senators won votes on amendments.


In an indication he has 60 votes, Reid said Monday that a vote might not be held on the remaining seven amendments. "We will tomorrow debate all the amendments, I think there are seven left, a number of those may not be brought to a vote," Reid said. "Everyone I think has had an opportunity to offer the amendments they want."


Reid also looks to have appeased Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who threatened to oppose the omnibus over language loosening travel restrictions to Cuba.


The Treasury Department on Thursday issued a letter on travel policy to Cuba that alleviated the senators' concerns, said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who joined the Democrats in objecting to the Cuba language. "I think they're satisfied," Martinez said Monday.


The Senate also voted on two amendments by Minority Whip Kyl, including one that would require a report from the secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence on whether more U.S. assistance to Egypt would improve that nation's efforts to counter smuggling in Gaza.


The amendment failed, with 34 senators supporting it and 61 voting against.


The other Kyl amendment would have required that the secretary of State certify that funds made available for Gaza reconstruction efforts would not be diverted to Hamas or Hamas-controlled entities, which also failed, picking up 39 "yes" votes and 56 "no" votes


The Senate Monday also took up a proposal from Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Michael Enzi to strip language that would result in larger cities receiving more HIV/AIDS funding under the Ryan White Care Act. That amendment failed with 42 senators voting for it and 53 voting against.


An amendment from Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to strike language requiring oil and gas companies to pay the $4,000 processing fee for a permit to drill on public lands was defeated on a voice vote.


The Senate will continue voting on the remaining amendments today, with a likely vote on tap for a bid from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that would require Congress to vote on cost-of-living pay increases, which occur automatically.


Vitter's amendment will likely be voted down, and he said he doubted "it would ever come up in the House." But the measure has the potential to cause other senators some heartburn. Vitter said Monday he will "keep bringing up" the amendment if it is defeated. If Vitter succeeds in forcing votes on the issue, he would take a step toward undermining one primary effect of the pay-raise provision, keeping lawmakers from having to vote on the issue.


The Senate will likely consider an amendment from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that would strike language prohibiting the use of omnibus funds for the District of Columbia's school voucher program before it is reauthorized, which Republicans claim would kill the program.

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Cyra Master

Cyra Master is a W.E.B. Du Bois fellow at the Atlantic. Previously, she was an editor at the nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy and was a reporter for the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune. She is a graduate of Emerson College.
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