President Obama expressed frustration with the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that he signed Wednesday, and rightly so.
Packed with pork projects inserted by congressional Republicans and Democrats who are better at speechifying about fiscal responsibility than practicing it, the measure passed through the Senate Tuesday on a no-accountability voice vote.
The real test of where senators stood came in a procedural vote on whether to shut down debate and call the question. Sixty-two senators — 52 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats and eight Republicans — voted “yes.” Thirty-five senators — 32 Republicans and three Democrats — voted “no.”
It is certainly true that many of the “no” votes came from cynical Republican senators who will soon be dispatching press releases describing the goodies that were packed into the spending bill for their allies at home. (Obama said he found “it ironic that some of those who railed the loudest against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own – and will tout them in their own states and districts.”)
But there was also principled opposition from reasonably sincere conservatives (such as Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, whose disdain for all things governmental is interrupted only by a casual disregard for excessive Pentagon spending) and progressive Democrat Russ Feingold.
Said the senator from Wisconsin: “By passing the omnibus spending bill today, which included more than 8500 pet projects costing taxpayers $7.7 billion, Congress failed to show the American people that it is committed to spending their money wisely. When Congress passed the economic recovery bill to create or save millions of American jobs, it did so without including a single earmark. Congress should have done the same thing with this omnibus spending bill and it should do so with all future bills. The president should veto the omnibus, send it back to Congress to be cleaned up and make it clear to Congress that pork-laden bills like this are no longer welcome.”
That’s a sentiment Obama recognizes, and to at least some extent shares. “(Earmarks) have been used as a vehicle for waste, fraud, and abuse,” said the president, who explained that he signed a “disappointing” spending bill “because it is necessary for the ongoing functions of government.”
To Obama’s credit, however, he did not leave things there.