Spending bill includes $3.8B in projects

A $410 billion spending bill unveiled in Congress on Monday includes at least $3.8 billion worth of funding for the kinds of lawmakers' pet projects that President Obama has pledged to trim from future budgets.

The bill is meant to end a budget impasse left over from last year, after President Bush threatened to veto the Democratic-controlled Congress' plan because of its cost. It would fund most federal agencies through the end of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Those agencies are operating under a congressional extension of last year's budgets that expires next week. Congress approved full-year budgets last fall for only three departments: Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

The bill introduced Monday includes 806 pages listing specific projects added to the spending bill by members of Congress. The $3.8 billion in the bill for legislative projects known as "earmarks" is down about 5% from the $4 billion in fiscal 2008, House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said.

The House plans to vote on the bill this week.

Steve Ellis of non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense said the latest bill — combined with $6.6 billion in earmarks already approved for Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs — would bring the total cost of legislative projects to more than $10 billion for fiscal year 2009. Ellis said his group has yet to analyze the new bill, so he could not say exactly how much is for earmarks.

Obama and other critics say earmarks are often wasteful, and Obama has pledged to reduce the number and amount spent. On the White House website, Obama promises to "slash earmarks to no greater than 1994 levels" — a campaign promise that he has said would cap earmarks at $7.8 billion.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs sidestepped a question about earmarks Monday, saying he hadn't discussed the bill with Obama. Gibbs suggested that Obama wants Congress to show restraint, saying that "everybody has to be involved in the sharing of pain" in the budget process.

Among them: $142,500 for a museum honoring the late House speaker Sam Rayburn, requested by Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas; $300,000 for a science camp curriculum in West Virginia requested by Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va.; and $150,000 for renovations to the Westwood Theater in Rexburg, Idaho, requested by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.