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Political notebook

GOP filibuster on spending bill squashed

Associated Press / December 13, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Democratic-controlled Senate yesterday cleared away a Republican filibuster of a huge end-of-year spending bill that rewards most federal agencies with generous budget boosts.

The $1.1 trillion measure combines much of the year’s unfinished budget work - only a $626 billion Pentagon spending measure would remain - into a 1,000-plus-page spending bill that would give the Education Department, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and others increases far exceeding inflation.

The 60-to-34 vote met the minimum threshold to end the GOP filibuster.

A final vote was set for this afternoon to send the measure to President Obama.

Democrats held the vote open for an hour to accommodate Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Orthodox Jew who walked more than 3 miles to the Capitol to vote on the Sabbath after attending services at his synagogue in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood.

Lieberman wore a black wool overcoat and brilliant orange scarf - as well as a wide grin - as he provided the crucial 60th vote.

The measure combines $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The measure wraps together six spending bills and also contains more than 5,000 back-home projects sought by lawmakers in both parties.

The measure provides spending increases averaging about 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress, blending increases for veterans’ programs, NASA, and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers.

It bundles six of the 12 annual spending bills, capping a dysfunctional appropriations process for budget year that began Oct. 1, dysfunctional appropriations process in which House leaders blocked Republicans from debating key issues and Senate Republicans dragged out debates.

Just the $626 billion defense bill would remain. That is being held back to serve as a vehicle to advance must-pass legislation such as a plan to allow the government’s debt to swell by nearly $2 trillion.

The government’s total debt has nearly doubled in the past seven years and is expected to exceed the current ceiling of $12.1 trillion before Jan. 1.

Republicans said the measure - on top of February’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill and a generous omnibus measure for the 2009 budget year - spends too much money in a time when the government is running astronomical deficits.

Obama criticizes banks opposing tighter rules

WASHINGTON - President Obama singled out financial institutions for causing much of the economic tailspin and criticized their opposition to tighter federal oversight.

While applauding House passage Friday of overhaul legislation and urging quick Senate action, Obama expressed frustration with banks that were helped by a taxpayer bailout and now are “fighting tooth and nail with their lobbyists’’ against new government controls.

In his weekly radio and Internet address yesterday, Obama said the economy is only now beginning to recover from the “irresponsibility’’ of Wall Street institutions that “gambled on risky loans and complex financial products’’ in pursuit of short-term profits and big bonuses.