Congressional delegation split on omnibus spending bill

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(Host) It’s unusual for Vermont’s congressional delegation to disagree on major budget bills in Washington but that’s exactly what happened on the recent omnibus appropriations act. Senators Pat Leahy and Jim Jeffords strongly criticized the bill while Congressman Bernie Sanders voted for it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Congress was unable to pass a number of important budget bills this fall. So members were called back for a lame duck session to consider one enormous appropriations plan that allocates nearly $400 billion for the operations of most federal departments in the new fiscal year. The legislation, which was over 1,000 pages long, calls for a roughly one percent overall increase in federal spending.

Both of Vermont’s senators voted against the bill, largely because of the policies that are contained in the legislation. Senator Jim Jeffords said, “the bill is indefensible – the priorities are wrong and education and the environment will suffer as a result.”

Senator Patrick Leahy expressed concern about the lack of funding for affordable housing projects. And Leahy was outraged at a provision in the bill that gives the Republican committee chairmen and their staff access to personal income tax returns of individual Americans:

(Leahy) “There’s a certain hubris that’s going here. In other words, if a reporter were to criticize the Republican leadership they could just yank his income tax returns. Or if they had somebody running against their boss, a staff member could go out and yank their income tax returns. When this got caught they ran for cover. They have to learn the rules are there for everybody and you can’t have one set of rules for the Republicans and a different set of rules for the Democrats.”

(Kinzel) Sanders took a more practical approach to the legislation. Sanders says it was clear that the bill was going to pass and he wanted to make sure that a number of projects that would benefit people in Vermont remained as part of the proposal:

(Sanders) “This omnibus bill was not a good bill. A lot of concerns that I had about environmental implications, labor implications pension implications, civil liberty implications – so a lot of bad stuff in it. What I had to weigh with a symbolic ‘no’ vote was the fact that in that bill we got a lot of good stuff for Vermont in terms of health care, in terms of dental care, in terms of the needs of senior citizens, in terms of domestic violence and some other issues as well.”

(Kinzel) House leaders have vowed to remove the income tax provisions from the bill before they send the measure to President Bush for his signature.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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