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Will Congress Find Funds for Obamacare and Lots of Pork Under the Tree This Christmas?

Last Christmas Eve, the U.S. Senate gave Americans the lump of coal known as Obamacare. This year, they may take even more of our money to fund it and also force us to buy a pork-barrel full of thousands of earmarks. In a 212-206 vote, House Democrats pushed through a flawed continuing resolution yesterday that funds Obamacare and extends overall funding for the next year at reckless 2010 levels.

As Sen. Tom Coburn has pointed out, the House-passed bill contains significant Obamacare funding, which is why Coburn called the bill a “Trojan Horse to Fund New Health Law.”

Now the focus shifts to the Senate, where efforts are underway to amend the House-passed version—and not for the better. 

Senate Democrats will offer an amendment to make it even worse with a full-blown omnibus appropriations bill packed with pork-barrel earmarks, spending increases, and even more funding for every top Obama administration priority. And unfortunately, some Senate Republicans may be poised to help the Democrats pass it.

Rumors are swirling that despite the fact Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug on official Republican support for the omnibus, a small group of rogue Republican appropriators are playing ball, planning to vote for the massive bloated spending bill in exchange for a parting Christmas gift of pork-barrel goodies for their states. 

The most likely to play ball are three retiring appropriators: Kit Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Robert Bennett of Utah who will never face voters again. Plus, there's also the highest-ranking Republican appropriator: Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

We don’t know which earmarks made it into the omnibus yet but we do know that Kit Bond requested 142 earmarks this year totaling over $600 million. George Voinovich requested 172 earmarks totaling over $460 million, Robert Bennett requested 321 earmarks topping $1.3 billion, and Thad Cochran requested a whopping 712 earmarks totaling over $2.4 billion.

Other Republican senators worth worrying about identified themselves last week when they voted against the Coburn-McCaskill amendment to ban earmarks: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind..), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

These nine Republicans must be urged to abide by the wishes of the American people and to learn the same lesson Mitch McConnell, himself an appropriator, made clear in his wonderful Senate floor speech embracing the earmark moratorium:

“Nearly every day that the Senate’s been in session for the past two years, I have come down to this spot and said that Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won’t be guilty of the same thing.”

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some Republicans may vote for the Democrats’ pork-packed, Obamacare-funding omnibus monstrosity.

That’s why pressuring Democrats is critical, starting with the ones who voted in favor of the Coburn-McCaskill earmark ban.

Claire McCaskill herself is the most likely Democrat to oppose the omnibus. Unlike her pork-loving Republican colleague Kit Bond, McCaskill has requested no earmarks this year and has long been a proponent of reform. This vote will test whether, when the rubber hits the road, she is really willing to vote to stop a rolling pork-barrel.

The other Democrats who voted with Coburn include Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), neither of whom requested any earmarks this year, along with Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). They will be put to the test of whether their earmark reform was sincere when they have the opportunity to stop the omnibus.

Moreover, all senators need to be forcefully reminded that this will be the first vote on funding Obamacare, a signature issue that will loom large in the 2012 election.

The bottom line is that this Congress had all year to do its job and pass legislation to fund the government before the November midterm elections. They failed. They should not now be rewarded with a massive omnibus spending bill on their way out the door. 

Sen. Coburn got it exactly right when he said: “It’s time for Congress to extend current tax rates, pass a clean spending bill – a ‘continuing resolution’ -- without extraneous and vague health care provisions, and go home.”

Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. He is fighting the lame duck threat at www.NovemberSpeaks.com.

Phil Kerpen is the founder of American Commitment Action Fund, on the web at www.BookerFAIL.com.