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Senate to vote on $1.1 trillion spending bill

ANDREW TAYLOR | 12/13/2009, 12:18 p.m.

Senate Democrats overcame a Republican filibuster to clear the way for a vote Sunday, Dec. 13 on a huge end-of-year $1.1 trillion spending bill that gives budget increases far exceeding inflation to much of the government. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 60-34 on Saturday to end the GOP filibuster that threatened to hold up the legislation. The final vote would send the measure to President Barack Obama.

The 1,000-plus-page bill brings together six of the 12 annual spending bills that Congress had been unable to pass separately because of partisan roadblocks even though the current budget year began Oct. 1.

The measure pays for Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and boosts spending for the Education Department, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and others.Right after the vote Sunday, the Senate planned to return to legislation to overhaul the health care system, an issue that Democrats hope to reach consensus on in the final days of this year.

In the coming week, Congress may try to take a defense spending bill and attach a measure that would raise the $12.1 billion debt ceiling and initiate new spending and tax cut efforts to stimulate jobs.

"We are in a very special kind of economic situation, and frankly, jobs have to be the top priority, and every bill is going to be a jobs bill going forward," Obama's top economic adviser, Larry Summers, said on ABC's "This Week."

The Senate Budget Committee's senior Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, pushed the creation of a bipartisan deficit reduction task force as a condition for raising the debt ceiling to near $14 trillion. "If we don't do this, we'll be passing on to our kids an insolvent country, which basically means they're going to confront massive inflation or massive tax increases," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democrats held Saturday's vote open for an hour to accommodate Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Orthodox Jew who walked more than three miles to the Capitol to vote on the Sabbath after attending services at his synagogue. Lieberman, wearing a black wool overcoat and bright orange scarf, finally provided the crucial 60th vote.

The bill includes $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as well as an estimated $3.9 billion for more than 5,000 back-home projects sought by individual lawmakers in both parties.

The bill increases spending by an average of about 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress, blending increases for veterans' programs, NASA and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers.

Republicans who fought the bill said it provides too much money at a time when the government is running astronomical deficits. "Obviously we need to run the government, but do you suppose the government could be a little bit like families and be just a little bit prudent in how much it spends?" said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

But the second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said the measure restores money for programs cut under former President George W. Bush such as popular grant programs for local police departments to purchase equipment and put more officers on the beat.

The legislation also:

-Includes an improved binding arbitration process to challenge the decision by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to close more than 2,000 dealerships.

-Renews a federal loan guarantee program for steel companies.

-Permits detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be transferred to the U.S. for trial, but not to be released.

-Calls for federal worker pay increases averaging 2 percent.