Here’s a little secret about the bill Congress approved ending the partial government shutdown and preventing a possible federal default: It’s got goodies for some states and federal agencies too.
There’s language allowing more spending for upgrading a lock in the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky; money to help Colorado rebuild roads washed away by last month’s catastrophic floods; extra money to help the Veterans Affairs Department whittle down a backlog of disabilities claims; and permission for the Pentagon to keep helping African nations hunt a notorious warlord.
The measure, approved Wednesday by the House and Senate, has one lump of coal for lawmakers: For the sixth consecutive year it would deny them the annual cost-of-living pay raise that by law they automatically receive unless they vote to block it. Members of Congress earn $174,000 annually, and some leaders receive more.
The 35-page bill had only a handful of such narrowly aimed provisions. That’s a far cry from years ago, when spending bills would be studded with hundreds of “earmarks,” or projects for specific states or congressional districts, often designed to ensure the votes of lawmakers.
One provision would let the government spend $2.9 billion — an increase from the current cap of $775 million — to upgrade the Olmstead lock on the Ohio River.
It gained attention because the two states it straddles are represented by two of the Senate’s most powerful members: the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and No. 2 Democratic leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois.
Both men said they had nothing to do with the provision, and others backed that up. Aides to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the leaders of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees water projects, said they had requested the provision.
They said President Barack Obama had requested the project in his budget this year and said it has been included in House and Senate water bills this year too.
“This is not an earmark,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who with McConnell struck the compromise on the overall shutdown and debt limit bill, told reporters Wednesday.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has targeted McConnell in his 2014 re-election campaign, disagreed, calling it “the Kentucky Kickback.”
“McConnell may try to blame someone else for this, but he wrote the bill and it’s not the first time he has sought funds for this project,” the group said in a news release. “This is what’s wrong with Washington and it’s what’s wrong with Mitch McConnell.”
In a boon for flood-battered Colorado, the measure would lift the usual $100 million limit on Federal Highway Administration emergency highway aid to $450 million for the state. Colorado officials have said last month’s flooding destroyed 200 miles of roads and 50 bridges.
The legislation, which keeps federal agencies functioning through Jan. 15, provides an extra $294 million during that period for the Veterans Affairs Department’s efforts to reduce backlogged claims, along with an additional $100 million to prevent furloughs of air traffic controllers and safety inspectors, and extra money for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue work on two weather satellites.
—Lets the Defense Department continue assisting African forces pursue Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group accused of atrocities.
—Provides extra money for contracts with private companies whose ships move American troops and their equipment overseas.
—Supplies $600 million for Forest Service firefighting and $36 million for Interior Department firefighting.
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