SENATE BILL INCLUDES PORK FOR TEXAS@
(For use by New York Times News Service clients.)@
By RICHARD S. DUNHAM and STEWART M. POWELL@
c.2010 Houston Chronicle@
WASHINGTON — Undaunted by midterm election defeats, the Senate Democratic leadership launched an aggressive push Tuesday to pass a $1.1 trillion spending measure for 2011 laden with pork-barrel projects, including earmarks for Texas.
The 1,924-page spending plan, which would fund government agencies through Sept. 30 and finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, represents what many lawmakers from both parties believe to be a final feeding at the trough of pork barrel spending before serious deficit-reduction attempts are undertaken by the next Congress.
Republicans, who are mostly opposed to earmark spending, take control of the House of Representatives on Jan. 5.
But in spite of heated GOP attacks on earmarks — those home-state spending projects that are sought by lawmakers — the Democratic proposal contains hundreds of earmarked projects sought by Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
The spending measure puts Texas' Republican lawmakers on the spot. While they are unanimously opposed to the overall plan, they worked hard to include some of its components.
Hutchison, for example, championed a provision that prevents the state of Texas from converting existing interstate highway lanes into toll roads. And the bipartisan Houston area delegation favors funding for NASA, the Houston Ship Center and the Texas Medical Center, all major employers in the region.
Still, Courtney Sanders, a Hutchison spokeswoman, said the veteran Republican from Dallas "will not support the omnibus when it comes up for a vote in the Senate."
"While it contains projects the senator supported, the spending bill is massive and senators have been given limited opportunity to review it and amendments have been prohibited," Sanders said. "That is the business-as-usual that Americans voted to stop."
Among the notable Texas projects:
— A $3 million earmark by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Hutchison for a National Wind Energy Center at the University of Houston.
— A $250,000 earmark sponsored by Houston Democratic Reps. Jackson Lee, Al Green and Gene Green to help the city of Houston to reduce the backlog on testing and identifying forensic DNA samples.
? $1.5 million in Homeland Security Department spending to fund a National Emergency Response training center at Texas A&M University.
— A $200,000 grant earmarked by Rep. Al Green for a mentoring program at the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity, a Houston nonprofit organization named in honor of the longtime minister. The Lawson Institute, named for the Rev. William A. Lawson, describes itself as "a defender of the underclass" and "a bridge-builder between groups and communities."
"I support the earmark process generally speaking because it gives us an opportunity to give our constituents support for things of legitimate concern," said Al Green, whose district represents much of southwest Harris County.
Republicans reacted with outrage at the Democratic tactics and said they had requested the earmarks last year, before GOP members reversed course and opposed all such projects.
"It is completely and totally inappropriate to wrap up all of this into a 2,000-page bill and try to pass it the week before Christmas," said McConnell, whose earmarks included marijuana-eradication efforts in Kentucky.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who has not requested any earmarks since 2008, said the Democrats were defying the will of the American people.
"Voters sent a clear message last month to stop the out of control deficit spending in Washington," said McCaul. "Unfortunately many members continue to demonstrate that they are tone deaf. They continue to charge the taxpayers for their pet projects and defy the will of the American people."
A group of conservative Republican senators is planning to force Senate officials to read every word of the bill's 1,924 pages in an attempt to slow down the process — and give conservatives time to whip up public consternation. The GOP would prefer a short-term, temporary spending package that did not include any earmarks and would continue government operations only until January, when House control shifts.
"We can not — and I will not — approve another huge, last minute spending bill full of earmarks to fund a bloated government," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. "Instead of earmarking more ways to spend what we don't have, Congress should immediately start cutting the size of this government."
A spokesman for senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that Democrats could muster the 60 votes needed to shut off an all-but-certain GOP filibuster attempt.
(E-mail: Richard.dunham(at)chron.com; stewart.powell(at)chron.com)