This vote was on whether to allow to go forward a conference report on a that would dole out money in fiscal 2010 for many federal departments and agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Heath and Human Services, Education, Transportation and more. This “omnibus” bill was necessitated in part due to the amount of time lawmakers devoted to debating a heath care overhaul during in the waning months of 2009. A conference report represents the final compromise version of any legislation in which the House and Senate pass different bills.
John McCain, R-Ariz., attempted to defeat the conference report with a parliamentary maneuver, arguing that the measure violated the Senate’s spending rules. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, then made a motion that the rules be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
McCain argued that the bill spent too much money on spending requested by lawmakers, primarily for projects in their home states (referred to as “earmarks”).
“Combined, these three bills spend over $237 billion and contain 2,019 earmarks. It is remarkable and unacceptable,” McCain said. “Do you want to hear a few of them? They are fascinating. Here is my favorite of all--there are a lot of good ones--$2.7 million to support surgical operations in outer space at the University of Nebraska. I assure my colleagues, I am not making that up. That is an appropriation in this bill. Let me repeat: $2.7 million to support surgical operations in outer space. There are a lot of compelling issues before the American people. Surgical operations in outer space at the University of Nebraska? I guess the University of Nebraska has some kind of expertise that they need $2.7 million so we could support surgical operations in outer space. I wonder when the next surgical operation is scheduled in outer space? Maybe we ought to go into that.”
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he has “mixed emotions” about the bill because he had planned to pass all of the appropriations bills separately rather than resorting to an omnibus.
“Completing action on our annual appropriations bills is our most fundamental responsibility. Regular order allows each Senator the opportunity to debate and to amend each bill on an individual basis. Every Senator on both sides of the aisle recognizes that regular order is the preferred course of action,” Inouye said, but added that the realities of the schedule forced their hand.
“I can say this is a clean bill. There are no extraneous measures attached. For this reason, as I just mentioned, we have bipartisan support of the bill, and I am proud of that fact. Some have criticized this bill as spending too much. I will point out that the amounts recommended in the bill are below the amounts requested by the President and equal to the amount approved by the Congress in the Budget Committee. It has been a long process. Furthermore, the only area where the committee exceeded the amount requested by the President is for military construction and for veterans,” Inouye said.
By a vote of 60-36, the motion to waive the rules was agreed to. All but three Democrats present voted for the motion. All but three Republicans present voted against the motion. The end result is that the rules were waived, the parliamentary attempt to kill the conference report was defeated, and debate continued on a consolidated fiscal 2010 spending bill covering the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Heath and Human Services, Education, Transportation and more.