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Washington Week

June 10, 2010 - 6:00pm

Congress is back from its week-long Memorial Day break trying to spend more money without paying the bills.

The Senate debated the $115 billion tax extenders bill most of the week. About half of the tab associated with the bill is paid for and efforts to pay the entire tab are being offered by the GOP in the Senate. The GOP is hoping to get an amendment passed that uses unspent stimulus money to pay for the cost of the bill.

Senator Vitter, R-Louisiana is offering an amendment relative to the oil spill trust fund. As a part of background, the trust fund was created back in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Alaska in 1989. This trust fund was included in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and is financed by taxes on barrels of oil. The trust fund is now capped at $75 million. Obviously, this fund is inadequate in terms of present-day inflation and general clean-up costs. So, efforts to increase this $75 million fund are expected to be included in the tax extenders bill pending on the Senate floor. The Vitter amendment is designed to make sure that the federal government doesn't raid the trust fund so that the money will always be available to assist in oil spill clean-up efforts. Hmm, I guess the good senator really understands the federal government's weakness for robbing programs in the past. Does the Social Security Trust Fund ring a bell?

On Thursday, the Senate paused the consideration of the tax extenders bill to debate a resolution offered by Sen. Murkowski, R-Alaska. The resolution would put a stop to the EPA rule issued in December of last year that basically is the groundwork for the agency to implement a cap and trade initiative. She needed 51 senators to join in the effort. The final vote was 47 to 53. The Senate GOP are at 41 in number, so Sen. Murkowski was able to get six Democratic senators to help in her cause. But she needed 10 Democrats to join her to get it passed.

This means that the EPA will continue to write regulations on greenhouse gases, recording their levels and ultimately taxing them. The six Democratic senators who joined her effort were Lincoln from Arkansas, Landrieu from Louisiana, Bayh from Indiana, Nelson from Nebraska, Pryor from Arkansas and Rockefeller from West Virginia.

The House of Representatives is working to get the votes to pass the Senate-passed war supplemental appropriations bill aimed at funding the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The original request back in March 2010 by the POTUS had a price tag of $33 billion. By the time the Senate passed the bill at the end of May, it reached a total cost of $60 billion. The House is hoping to pass it next week, with a total price of close to $85 billion.

How do you get from the original $33 billion to this new number? Just ask Rep. Obey, D-Wisconsin. He stated last month that he wants to add more than an additional $20 billion to the supplemental when it is considered in the House. Among other things, Obey said he wants to add $23 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, $5.7 billion for the Pell Grant program, and $1.2 billion for law enforcement officers. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee also included $677 million for border security along the U.S.-Mexico border. These and other items will bring the new the price tag of the war supplemental to roughly $84 billion.

Because the original intent of the bill was to fund the two on-going wars, the POTUS was able to deem the bill an "emergency" and thus Congress doesn't have to cut spending to offset the $85 billion price tag. The House GOP intends to offer up to 30 amendments making cuts to the various spending programs. However, no one expects any of these efforts to pass, because the GOP is in the minority and thus probably won't have enough votes to pass even one of these initiatives to trim the bill's price tag. Therefore, the total bill, whatever the final number, will be added directly to our debt.

Stay tuned for more spending reports from our Nation's Capitol. Yikes!

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of

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