By Brian Faler
Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. embargo on Cuba would be loosened, regulatory agencies would get budget increases and lawmakers would secure money for thousands of pet projects known as earmarks under a proposed $410 billion spending bill.
The “omnibus” spending package unveiled today by House Democrats would combine nine annual appropriations bills left over from last year that are needed to fund programs such as NASA and the national parks through September, the end of the fiscal year. Total spending on the programs would grow by $32 billion, or about 8.5 percent, from last year.
The House plans to vote on the measure later this week, and the Senate will consider it later.
Democrats postponed work on the appropriations bills last year after they were unable to reach an agreement with former President George W. Bush on how much to spend on domestic programs. Bush had demanded lawmakers freeze most domestic spending. Most federal agencies, except those related to defense, have been funded by a stopgap measure that expires March 6.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, called the new bill “the unfinished business of last year when the president refused to address the priorities and the needs of the American people.”
The measure was released as President Barack Obama pledged at a budget summit to cut the government’s yearly budget deficit in half in four years. The White House and Congressional Budget Office forecast the deficit for this fiscal year will be at least $1.3 trillion.
No surprise it contains a lot of pork:
During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain fought vigorously over who would be toughest on congressional earmarks.
“We need earmark reform,” Obama said in September during a presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. “And when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.”
President Barack Obama should prepare to carve out a lot of free time and keep the coffee hot this week as Congress prepares to unveil a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that’s riddled with thousands of earmarks, despite his calls for restraint and efforts on Capitol Hill to curtail the practice.
The bill will contain about 9,000 earmarks totaling $5 billion, congressional officials say. Many of the earmarks — loosely defined as local projects inserted by members of Congress — were inserted last year as the spending bills worked their way through various committees.
So while Obama and McCain were slamming earmarks on the camp aign trail, House and Senate members — Democrats and Republicans — were slapping them into spending bills.
“It will be a little embarrassing for the president if he signs a bill with that many earmarks on it,” said Stan Collender, a veteran Washington budget analyst.