Democratic and Republican lawmakers engaged in more emotional debate on Wednesday over government spending. Heated exchanges over budget measures left over from last year provided a glimpse of what is likely to come when Congress tackles President Barack Obama's 2010 fiscal year budget which is expected to arrive on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
The 2010 fiscal year budget, which President Obama pledged would reflect an intense review of government programs, is due to arrive on the Capitol Thursday.
But even as they begin work on next year's federal spending plan, lawmakers must approve 2009 fiscal year appropriations bills left unfinished because of feuding over spending levels between the Democratic-controlled Congress and former Republican President George Bush.
Democrats lumped these nine bills into one $410 billion "omnibus" measure the House of Representatives debated on Wednesday.
However, the legislation contains thousands of "earmarks," or spending provisions inserted by individual lawmakers to benefit their districts, which do not go through the normal budgetary vetting process.
That added even more fuel to partisan battles, as Republicans asserted that these earmarks show that Democrats and President Obama are not serious about controlling spending.
"We are bringing nine appropriations bills to the floor all wrapped into one big bill, eight percent over the amount spent last year, including some 9,000 earmarks. I just think this is out of control. This is exactly what the American people want us to change," said John Boehner, the House Republican leader.
In response, Democrats noted that 40 percent of the earmarks in the measure were placed by Republicans, while adding that the number of such individual spending provisions has declined. "Earmarks today are less than one percent of all of the funds in this bill. As a percentage of federal spending, we have cut earmarks by half in this bill. I think that is doing pretty well," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Democrat David Obey.
Estimates of the cost of "earmarks" in the legislation vary. Democrats give a figure of $3.8 billion; an independent group, Taxpayers for Common Sense put the figure at $7.7 billion in more than 8,500 projects.
Some earmarks were requested by former members of Congress now serving in President Obama's cabinet. The issue came up at Wednesday's White House briefing, as spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president hopes that the number of such special provisions will continue to decline. "There has been over the past few years, a downward trend on that line and the president hopes to continue that downward trend," he said.
In the larger debate over government spending, Republican Dan Burton assailed President Obama's spending plans. "You add all that up and it is an astronomical amount of printing of money and borrowing of money and we don't have it and we are borrowing from our kids and future generations. And then on top of that, the president said he is going to cut the deficit in half in four years. That is not possible!," he said.
Democrat Earl Blumenauer noted that the federal budget went from surplus to deficits under former President George Bush and a Republican controlled Congress. "We didn't hear that when the other side [i.e., the Republicans] ran the economy into the ditch for the last eight years and turned a $5 trillion surplus into a massive budget deficit," he said.
House approval of the 2009 omnibus bill will send the legislation to the Senate for a vote. Lawmakers then will have to reconcile the both versions before a final bill can go to President Obama for signature.
Congress faces a deadline. Since last year, government operations have been running at 2008 spending levels. Current temporary authority for this expires on March 6.