By Philip Rucker and Paul Kane Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:00 AM
Weeks after swearing off earmarks, many senators stand to gain tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in a massive spending bill that could be their last chance at the money before a more conservative Congress begins next month.
The $1.2 trillion bill, released on Tuesday, includes more than 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion, an amount that many lawmakers decried as an irresponsible binge following a midterm election in which many voters demanded that the government cut spending.
“The American people said just 42 days ago, ‘Enough!’ . . . Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia?” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading earmark critic, said on the Senate floor, flipping through the 1,924-page bill as he pounded his desk.
The bill includes $18 million for two nonprofits associated with deceased Democrats, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. John P. Murtha; $349,000 for swine waste management in North Carolina; and $6 million for a rural Iowa school program named after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) epitomizes the conflicted nature of the debate. Formerly a member of the committee that doles out earmarks, McConnell reluctantly embraced a moratorium on the practice last month to send a signal that Republicans are serious about curbing spending.
Yet the legislation includes provisions requested this year by McConnell, including $650,000 for a genetic technology center at the University of Kentucky, according to an analysis of the bill by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog.
Saying he was now “vigorously in opposition” to the legislation, McConnell said Tuesday that rushed consideration of the bill “here on Christmas Eve” compelled him to try to block the bill through a filibuster. “I’m going to vote against things that arguably would benefit my state. I do not think this is the appropriate way to run the Senate,” he said.