A bill that will avert a federal government shutdown is stuck in the Senate, after one key leader says it is full of pork-barrel projects and others say they want to use a budget tactic known as CHIMPS.
Senator John McCain says amendments to a continuing resolution already approved by the House are riddled with pork--pet projects that favor certain senators and get around the massive sequester budget cuts.
“What we have found is egregious pork barrel spending,” McCain said. “I hope in the next few hours we’ll be able to finish examining the bill, but what we’ve found is so egregious ... frankly it’s beyond anything I have ever seen in my years in the United States Senate.”
The House bill was expected to be amended by the Senate, and McCain was expected to protest, since he has a record as an anti-pork advocate.
Among the items that McCain objects to are a $100 million expenditure for algae research in Hawaii and $120 million for a public health laboratory and civilian waste water improvements in Guam. In all, McCain said he found 59 examples of pork in the bill--and he wasn’t done reading the document.
Another factor is something known as "changes in mandatory program spending," or CHIMPS. (If there were an award for government acronyms, this one would probably win.)
Roll Call says several senators are supporting an effort from Idaho Senator Mike Crapo to “chimp” spending from mandatory funds for crime victims. This would involve not paying money out from the Crime Victims Fund and using that number as “savings,” which can be spent on other programs.
Senator Jeff Sessions has been a big critic of CHIMPS in the Senate’s budget battles. Last year, Sessions said the Crime Victims Fund has been hit with CHIMPS since 2000, as a way to continue spending on programs.
Last year, only $705 million of the fund was spent. The remaining $5.5 billion was frozen, and other programs were allowed to spend by an additional $5.5 billion.
Senator Ted Cruz is also proposing an amendment to stall any funds for the Affordable Care Act, an idea that has support from fellow senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
The government shutdown would be two weeks from today if both the House and Senate can’t agree on a compromise resolution to fund the government until October.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski introduced the Senate version of the bill on Tuesday, issuing a dire warning about the shutdown.
“On March 27 that continuing resolution expires. If we do not pass our bill and then have an agreement between the House and the Senate that is signed by the president, we could face a government shutdown,” Mikulski said. “Now there is no will on either side of this institution that wants to do that. We are absolutely committed to no shutdown, no showdown, no lockdown, no slamdown. We want to do the job. And that's why we've been working very carefully to do that."
The proposed 587-page bill is also full of spending that will change how money is allocated due to the sequester—the mandatory across-the-board defense and social spending cuts that went into effect on March 1.
The House version of the continuing resolution gives the Pentagon flexibility to decide how defense spending will be cut.
The Senate version restores some funding to social programs and extends flexibility for sequester cuts to the Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, and Justice Departments.
Any stalling and debate over the continuing resolution will need to move at a fast pace. Traditionally, Congress takes a two-week break for Passover and Easter, which starts on the week of March 25.
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has plans for devoting next week to discussions about the budget for fiscal year 2014.
The first vote on the bill could come on Thursday. Reid wants approval to move the continuing resolution to the Senate floor for consideration.
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