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Senate spending bill contains thousands of earmarks

A variety of new faces showed up for the first day of the "lame duck" session in Congress.

"While I appreciate the work that the House has done in producing a full year continuing resolution, I do not believe that putting the government on autopilot for a full year is in the best interest of the American people," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Democratic House leaders signaled they would be receptive to adopting the Senate's spending bill. "It depends on what's in it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "We'll wait and see what the Senate sends, but we will be receptive."

Senate Democrats have not approved an earmark ban but seven of them sided with most Republicans on a procedural vote two weeks ago, making them unlikely to support the earmark-laden legislation now.

One such Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), ardently defended earmarks in early November but then supported the ban later in the month. Inouye's bill includes many earmarks that would benefit Nelson, including $1 million for an environmental study of a proposed Interstate 75 project along the Everglades and $400,00 for a rural research park.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said he would oppose the bill, has a $379,000 earmark to study port dredging in Charleston, something he considers key to economic development. Earlier in the day, Graham said that rejecting the massive legislation was "a defining moment. If we're going to embrace something new and understand the mandate, we won't go down this road."

Democratic aides noted that the $8 billion earmark sum is less than 1 percent of the entire bill and that this debate comes as the Senate was on the verge of approving an $858 billion tax package, which will add far more to the deficit. Republicans have refused any effort at offsetting the extension of the Bush-era tax breaks with revenue increases, while Obama and other Democrats resisted attempts to offset $57 billion in jobless benefits with other spending reductions.

Senators may vote as soon as Thursday, but Inouye is counting on support from committee Republicans as well as retiring GOP senators who have sent mixed signals on cutting the deficit.

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) announced this week he would oppose the extension of any tax cuts as an effort to reduce the more than $1 trillion annual deficit. On Tuesday, however, Voinovich pledged his support for the spending bill.

"I have a disagreement with my colleagues on earmarks," Voinovich told reporters. "Earmarks really don't add to the cost of government. What it does is it says that the money's going to be spent for something else. We're fooling the American people when we tell them the problem [with the deficit] is earmarks." Staff writers Shailagh Murray and Felicia Sonmez contributed.

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