The stopgap bill to fund the government was only supposed to end the partial shutdown for a few months, no strings attached — right?
Despite the bill being tiny by Washington standards — just 35 pages — lawmakers still managed to tuck in billions of dollars in additional spending.
Already, one item has earned some degree of notoriety. Appropriators included a line increasing the budget for an Ohio River dam project from $775 million to $2.9 billion.
Costs for the project, approved in 1998, have soared above the original price tag. Supporters of the Olmsted Locks and Dam funding argue the additional money is necessary to reduce bottlenecking at the crossing of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who along with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., supported the item, told Fox News that all barge traffic would be suspended if the dam wasn’t funded.
She said the funding was included in the budget bill because it is the only spending bill moving. The House had earlier approved funding for the dam, though at a lower level.
But there are projects all over the country that could have made a similar case. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., earlier this week called the inclusion “disgraceful,” saying many lawmakers didn’t realize the bill contained additional spending like this until late in the process.
Government watchdogs argued that if lawmakers wanted to pursue this spending, they should have done so in the long-term appropriations bill or another more appropriate piece of legislation.
The language in the bill itself didn’t exactly announce that the dam project was getting extra money, either.
The provision said: “SEC. 123. Section 3(a)(6) of Public Law 100-676 is amended by striking both occurrences of ‘$775,000,000’ and inserting in lieu thereof, ‘$2,918,000,000’.”
What’s public law 100-676? The Water Resources Development Act of 1988. And those “occurrences” of $775 million? That’s the dam project.
The bill included plenty of other items that some lawmakers have been trying to pass.
Among them was a “death gratuity” payment to the widow of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. The payment of $174,000, representing a year’s salary, is traditional when a member dies — but was questioned considering Lautenberg was one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
The bill also put up another $600 million for firefighters in the Forest Service, who have been dealing with a rash of major blazes this year. Another $36 million was appropriated for Interior Department firefighting.
On a related note, the bill authorized $450 million to be spent, via the Federal Highway Administration, on road repairs and other projects in Colorado — to rebuild after destructive flooding in that state.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.