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A $1.2 trillion “omnibus” spending bill loaded with thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects known as earmarks is dead in the U.S. Senate after the chamber’s top Democrat conceded that he didn’t have the votes to overcome Republican opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said yesterday that he was abandoning the measure after several Republicans he had been counting on withdrew their support of the plan to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2011. He said he would work with Republicans to write a shorter-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, in its place.
Reid said the Senate would also take test votes tomorrow on legislation to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving opening in the military, as well as a measure that would grant legal status to some younger illegal immigrants.
The House passed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill Dec. 15. The immigration legislation, called the DREAM Act, would allow people who came to the U.S. illegally before age 16 and remained for at least five years to gain legal residency after completing two years of college or military service. The House passed it on Dec. 9.
The decision to kill the omnibus measure was a key victory for Republicans, who lined up against the legislation even though most had used it to secure funding for projects in their home states. Republican complaints included the time they were given to consider the 1,924-page measure, which was introduced Dec. 14.
Reid “doesn’t have the votes, and the reason he doesn’t have the votes is because members on this side of the aisle increasingly felt concerned about the way we do business,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
“For many of our members, it was not so much the substance of the bill but the process” that spurred opposition, he said.
Critics of earmarks hailed the bill’s defeat. “This is a great, great victory for the American people,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “I want to thank those that made the calls, those that sent e-mails, those that stood up and called into the talk shows all over America and said, ‘We’ve had enough.'”
Democrats, who control the Senate with 58 votes, needed to pick up the support of at least three Republicans to overcome stalling tactics after Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, announced her opposition to the bill.
Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett had announced he would support the measure, while Ohio Republican George Voinovich had said he was leaning toward backing it. Both lawmakers leave office when the new Congress convenes in early January.
Reid said that though he had been counting on support from as many as nine Republicans, “in the last 24 hours, they’ve walked away.”
The resolution currently funding government on a temporary basis expires tomorrow. Reid yesterday didn’t reveal the duration of the new resolution being crafted.
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