Sen. McCain Urges Obama To Veto Omnibus Bill

Congress previously passed a stopgap bill that's keeping federal agencies operating at last year's levels through Friday. The House last week bundled those bills into a $410 billion omnibus package that raises domestic spending by 8 percent and has about 9,000 earmarks. The Senate has taken up the measure, and Sen. John McCain has demanded that President Obama veto the measure.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Having committed hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulating the economy, Congress takes up some business from last year. Instead of the stimulus, they now consider a bill that's called the omnibus - $410 billion the sum of all the domestic spending bills for the fiscal year that we're in the middle of right now. Congress put off passing them last year to avoid a veto from former President Bush. Now a very prominent senator is calling on President Obama to veto the bill. NPR's David Welna has more.

DAVID WELNA: Last Sunday on ABC, White House budget director Peter Orszag was asked about the nearly 9,000 earmarks in the Omnibus spending bill that the House passed last week and the Senate aims to pass this week.

Mr. PETER ORSZAG (White House Budget Director): This is last year's business. We just need to move on.

WELNA: Orszag was pressed on the earmarks because President Obama as a candidate had promised to carry out earmark reform and examine spending bills line by line. The president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was asked a similar question about those earmarks the same day on CBS.

Mr. RAHM EMANUEL (White House Chief Of Staff): That's last year's business.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): So much for the promise of change, Mr. President, so much for the promise of change.

WELNA: That's the man who lost at the polls to President Obama, Senator John Mccain. The Arizona Republican has been railing this week on the Senate floor against the omnibus, and yesterday he demanded that President Obama veto the measure.

Senator MCCAIN: By vetoing it, the president could send a message to America and the world that with the enormous economic difficulties that every American family is facing, that we'll show them that we will be for a change, careful stewards of their tax dollars.

WELNA: But White House aides says President Obama has no intention of vetoing the nine spending bills rolled into one. Together they cost eight percent more than last year's. Earmarks account for less than two percent of the spending in the omnibus. Still, they've been the main target of GOP ire. The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, accused his Republican colleagues of backtracking.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): When we went through this month after month, week after week, day after day in the committee, we had bipartisan support all the way. Now that we've a new president of a different political party, the other side of aisle is raising questions, questions they didn't raise for eight months.

WELNA: Durbin sits on the Appropriations Committee, whose members sponsor a large share of the earmarks. So does Washington Democrat Patty Murray. She warned that the stop-gap spending measure Congress passed late last year to avoid a government shutdown is about to run out.

Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democrat, Washington): On Friday night of this week at midnight, if we don't pass this bill, funding for most of our federal agencies will stop, will stop, and the money will be cut off. The Federal government will come to a halt. I think we all ought to think about what that means. Millions of Americans depend on this funding. We can't afford to let politics stand in the way and risk a government shutdown.

WELNA: But Mitch McConnell, who leads the Senate Republicans, insisted there is no need to hurry.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): We've known about the Friday deadline for months, so any pressure to rush this bill is completely manufactured.

WELNA: McConnell is also an appropriator and has more than $75 million worth of earmarks in the omnibus. Still, he says, the bill needs greater scrutiny. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who's been letting Republicans try to amend the measure, accused them yesterday of acting in bad faith.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The Republicans have made a decision to say no to everything. It's very clear. They've made a decision that they want President Obama to fail.

WELNA: But not all Republicans are just saying no to the omnibus. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski has $181 million worth of earmarks in the bill.

Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): I am not one who believes that all earmarks by definition are bad, are wasteful, are unnecessary expenditures of government funds.

WELNA: When McCain tried yesterday to force this year's spending levels down to last year's, Murkowski and eight other Republicans helped vote his measure down. All but one sit on the Appropriations Committee.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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