EDITORIAL: Omnibus Appropriations Bill

Passage last week of a $447 billion omnibus appropriations bill, and its signing on Wedneday by President Obama, kept the federal government operating past a shut-down deadline, and it also funded thousands of projects nationwide within the discretion of every member of Congress to seek.
The vote on passage was 57-35, and eight senators (both parties) took a walk for one reason or another and didn’t vote. Convenient.
Sen. Thad Cochran was one of three Republicans voting for the bill. Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby and Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins were the other two. Three Demcorats voted against the bill, Indiana’s Evan Bayh, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Cochran’s Republican colleague from Mississippi, voted against passage, but qualified his opposition by saying he supported the projects in the bill for Mississippi. Some of what was in the bill he sought along with Cochran. U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat from Booneville, also voted against the same bill in the House, and he, too, is happy about what’s in it for Mississippi.
Truth be known, nobody’s vote or non-vote Sunday was a surprise. Senators did what they felt was right, or politically necessary, or a combination of the two, and it worked as the vote counters knew it would.
Cochran’s taken some heat for his vote because the bill was big and expensive, but he did the right thing for our state and for the way the Senate works.
Cochran, serving his sixth term, is the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee. He was the chairman before the Democrats won control of the chamber in 2006. Now, Cochran’s number two, a very influential number two.
He sits beside Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, who chairs the committee.
Inouye and Cochran hammered out the omibus bill, which funded the Treasury department, the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill; the Commerce-Justice-State bill; the Labor-HHS-Education bill; the military construction-Veterans Affairs bill; and the State-foreign operations bill. It also authorized Medicare and Social Security program spending, raising the total to $1.1 trillion.
In the process, including in the House, more than 100 earmarks for Mississippi programs made it into spending for this year. The process started with a budget resolution months ago, and after that passed the money within the resoluton was fair game. Every state benefitted from it.
You can be sure that some very fiscally conservative Mississippi leaders clapped their hands in delight when Cochran released a list of the funded measures.
As one insider described it last week, the federal pie starts out unsliced, and then everybody tries to get as many slices as possible. Cochran, in particular, has become among the most skilled legislators in Washington. He is ranked among the 10 most effective and influential senators, much to Mississippi’s good.
“As a compilation of six of the annual 12 appropriations bills taken up by Congress, this measure includes a significant level of federal support for projects and programs in Mississippi,” Cochran said in a statement. “I support the directed funding in this legislation that will encourage improvements in education, health care, transportation and economic development in Mississippi.”
Many of those who voted against the bill also will show up, along with the those who voted for it, at the ground breakings, ribbon cutings and grand openings, receiving the cheers of those who sought the funding in the first place.
That, like the vote count, is the way the system works.

NEMS Daily Journal

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