McCain launches broadside against Obama on spending

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 2, 2009 10:17pm GMT

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at a news conference before the NBA All-Star basketball game at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at a news conference before the NBA All-Star basketball game at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona February 15, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Scuteri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John McCain on Monday launched a broadside against former rival President Barack Obama, arguing he failed to live up to his commitment to change Washington by backing a $410 billion spending bill stuffed full of lawmakers' pet projects.

Officials have said Obama would likely sign the spending bill because it was wrapping up business left over from the previous administration but necessary to fund government operations through September 30.

McCain said the projects -- known as "earmarks" -- directly violated Obama's vow to get tough on spending.

"In his pledge last September, President Obama said 'We need earmark reform and when I'm president I will go line by line to make sure we're not spending money unwisely,'" McCain said on the Senate floor.

"So what's brought to the floor today, 9,000 earmarks, billions and billions of dollars of unneeded and wasteful spending," he said.

McCain has tried for years to eliminate earmarks, which represent a small fraction of U.S. spending. On the campaign trail he frequently criticized Obama for seeking earmarks during his early years as a senator.

"If it sounds like I'm angry ... it's because I am," the fiery McCain said. "The American people want the Congress to act in a fiscally responsible manner."

The new spending bill provided him with fresh ammunition to attack Democrats as big spenders. Trying to draw further attention to the issue, he was using the short-message service Twitter to highlight projects he found distasteful.

STRANGE SPENDING

As examples, McCain pointed to $1.7 million for researching pig odor in Iowa as well as $2 million to promote astronomy in Hawaii, the home state of the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye.

"Why do we need to spend $2 million to promote astronomy in Hawaii when unemployment is going up and the stock market is tanking?" McCain said. "Here we are promising the American people hope and change and what do we get, business as usual."

Inouye, who is shepherding the measure through the Senate, did not respond and swiftly moved on.

In addition to taking on the Obama administration on the spending bill, McCain was an outspoken critic of the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation passed this month with only the slimmest of Republican support.

Some Republicans have also blasted the separate $410 billion measure, arguing it was 8 percent more in spending over fiscal 2008 and includes funding for over 9,000 pet projects.

Democrats have said the spending was necessary and they would start fresh with the coming fiscal 2010 budget which Congress is already starting to consider. The White House also defended Obama's efforts to slim down pet projects.

"We are regrettably dealing with leftover business," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "I think that the American people ... have been clear about where he stands on this and what we'll do going forward to change the rules of the road."

Congress must act by March 6 to fund government operations through September 30 because a temporary spending measure expires then. If lawmakers are unable to pass the spending bill, they could instead pass another temporary extension.

McCain offered an amendment to strike the entire bill including the pet projects and merely fund the government departments awaiting their money at 2008 spending levels.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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