Killing the omnibus would deal blow to Republican senators' earmarks

Republican senators stand to lose nearly $2 billion in project money they requested for their home states if they stick with their leadership and block a year-end omnibus spending bill.

This has given Democratic leaders some hope that they might be able to pick up a few Republican votes to pass new spending legislation for fiscal year 2011.

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If Republicans unite behind Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Congress would be forced to pass a stop-gap measure that would likely freeze spending at current levels.

Republicans considered most likely to defect are senior members of the Appropriations Committee who have aggressively pursued federal funding for their constituents.

Several of those lawmakers plan to retire at the end of this year, and the omnibus represents a last chance to add the final touches to their legacies.

Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.), the second-ranking Republican on the panel, convinced his colleagues to put 33 earmarks worth $61.5 million in the defense appropriations bill.

He won 21 earmarks worth $76.3 million in the energy and water development appropriations bill and 31 earmarks totaling $38 million in the transportation, housing and urban development bill.

These tallies come from a database of earmarks compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that tracks federal spending. The tallies do not include earmarks that Republican senators requested jointly with Democratic colleagues or with President Obama.

Republican senators  won a total of 1,029 earmarks worth a total of $1.9 billion in nine spending bills passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Bond has touted money he secured for his home state in legislation such as the labor, health and human services bill and the financial services and general government appropriations bill.

His office issued a press release in July highlighting $1 million he secured for the Midwest-China Hub Commission in St. Louis.

“This hub will increase exports of Midwestern products and create new jobs in Missouri through business development as a result of the new trade route with China,” his staff said in the statement.

He also won $750,000 in the labor, health and human services bill for a women’s and children’s wellness center in Kirksville, Mo.

Bond’s office said in a press statement that the center “will help reduce the fragmentation of services and access barriers to ensure that all women and children are provided the opportunity to receive quality, integrated, and comprehensive preventative and health care services.”

Bond plans to retire at the end of the year, and if Congress does not pass the omnibus spending bill, these projects will get wiped out.

Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), another Republican member of the Appropriations Committee, will also retire at the end of the 111th Congress. He helped secure seven earmarks in the defense appropriations bill worth $29 million, and also won four earmarks in the energy and water bill worth $4.6 million and 6 earmarks in the labor, health and human services bill worth $1 million.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who will wrap up his third and final term in December, secured $86.8 million worth of projects for Utah in the defense spending bill, according to a press release from his office. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill in mid-September.

The earmarks included $7.5 million to continue the production of the Minuteman Solid Rocket Motor at Alliant Techsystems, an aerospace and defense company with facilities in Utah.

“There is a critical need to make smart investments in defense systems that keep us safe while saving taxpayer dollars,” Bennett said in a statement. “Continuing the production of the Minuteman Solid Rocket Motor at ATK is a cost effective way to ensure the long-term viability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent and sustain an industrial base critical to our national security.”

Some lawmakers may argue that federal funding for advanced weapons development is crucial at a time when North Korea is showing increased belligerency. Bennett’s work to help Alliant Techsystems and other constituents, however, would not result in any funding if Republicans block the omnibus spending bill that Senate Democratic leaders hope to bring to the floor next month.

It’s not guaranteed that all the earmarks included in bills passed by the Appropriations panel will make it into the omnibus, but lawmakers rarely drop projects when they combine spending bills.

Democrats will control 58 seats in the upper chamber after Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) takes the oath of office on Nov. 29. That means Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will need to corral the votes of several Republican senators for a year-end appropriations package.

McConnell declared last week that he would oppose the omnibus because it would be such a large bill that lawmakers couldn’t know of all the provisions slipped in at the last minute.

“Americans don’t want Congress passing massive trillion-dollar bills thrown together behind closed doors,” McConnell said in a floor speech. “They want us to do business differently, so I won’t be supporting an omnibus spending bill.

“We’ve seen what happens when Democrats rush legislation and try to jam it through at the last minute with no time for review or for the American people to learn what’s actually in the bill,” he said.

Democratic leaders hope they can convince a few Republicans to split with McConnell. They plan to pass a short-term stopgap spending measure this week to give themselves more time to negotiate the omnibus.