Long delayed but not shrunken with time, a nearly $410 billion omnibus spending bill is fast becoming a great bone in the throat for Democrats and the White House, just when each hoped to put the past behind them and move onto President Barack Obama’s new 2010 budget.
Minutes after hitting the Senate floor Monday, the bill touched off a fierce, emotional attack from the president’s old rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lectured Obama for failing to do more to stand up against the thousands of spending earmarks in the 1,132 pages. At the same time, Democrats admitted privately that the White House itself has hurt their cause by frightening off Republicans, who negotiated the bill in December but are now in “sticker shock” after seeing the full cost of the new president’s agenda. The giant measure covers more than a dozen Cabinet departments and represents unfinished business from last fall, when Democrats and the Bush administration were at loggerheads over domestic spending. But in today’s environment — of soaring deficits and unemployment — it’s an explosive mix of parochial projects and new spending.
And as Obama himself famously quoted Faulkner in the campaign last year, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Certainly not for McCain. Monday’s floor speech was the most personal attack yet by the Arizona Republican in what has already become a surprisingly strained, often hostile approach to the new president. “If it seems like I’m angry, it’s because I am,” McCain said, taking the White House to task for treating the bill as leftover business — and not subject to the full measure of earmark reform promised by candidate Obama. “Last year’s business?” McCain asked, incredulous. “The president will sign this appropriations bill into law. It is the president’s business. It is the president of the United States’ business. It is the president of the United States’ business to do what he said — stated — when we were in debate seeking the support of the American people — where he said he would work to eliminate earmarks.”
“We need earmark reform and when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure we’re not spending money unwisely,” McCain said, reading back Obama’s words at a debate last fall. “That’s the quote, the promise of the president of the United States made to the American people in a debate with me in Oxford, Miss. So what is brought to the floor today — 9,000 earmarks.…So much for change.”
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