Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) said the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which the Senate passed Tuesday, "includes funding for the military and its veterans, border security, drought relief, dam infrastructure repair, national park improvements and other projects vital to Tennessee."
“The most important thing is that, except for true emergency spending, this bill meets the President’s budget number and funds the troops in the field,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It also provides funding for critical Tennessee priorities throughout the state, including dollars for supercomputing research in East Tennessee, Wolf Creek and Center Hill dam repairs in Middle Tennessee and funding for gang and violent crime fighting activities in West Tennessee.”
“I ultimately supported this bill because it provides essential resources for our military men and women on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and at home, drought relief for farmers in our state, funding for the basic services Tennesseans and Americans depend upon, and I am pleased that because of the pressure that was applied, the price tag of the bill was cut by $22 billion,” said Corker.
However, Alexander and Corker said the omnibus bill, which combines the 11 remaining appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government in fiscal year 2008, "highlights the need for major budget reforms to help Congress restrain federal spending, reduce the deficit and gain control of the federal budget process."
“The bill has too many earmarks and gimmicks,” Alexander said. “We need to change the way we do business in Washington and cut wasteful spending.”
“This is not the way the Senate should do business, and we must do better,” said Corker. “Voting for this bill was a difficult decision because it contains too many earmarks and was assembled without the serious deliberation and public review it deserves.”
Sens. Alexander and Corker said they support legislation that includes the following budgetary reforms:
1. Presidential Line Item Veto – to give the President the ability to cut individual pork barrel projects from congressional spending bills.
2. 2-Year Budgeting – so Congress would pass a two-year budget during the first year and use the second year to take a good look at what federal programs are working and what ones are not – and either fix or stop paying for broken programs.
3. Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action – a bipartisan effort to review all aspects of the government’s long-term financial condition and find solutions to protect critical programs while keeping costs down which would be fast-tracked through Congress and guaranteed an up or down vote.
The omnibus bill meets the President’s budget request except for $3.7 billion in additional funding for veterans’ health and service needs, which is contingent on the President requesting such funding in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 which is due in January, they said. The bill also includes $7.5 billion in emergency spending, which includes funding for border security ($3 billion), drought relief ($600 million), and wildfires ($300 million).
The legislation includes $2 billion for National Park Service operations, a $200 million increase above the previous year’s funding which, in part, funds the President’s Centennial Challenge, an initiative to boost funding to the Park Service and attract investment from the private sector.
In addition, they said the omnibus package contains dollars benefiting each of Tennessee’s grand divisions, including:
East Tennessee- more than $4 million for the Tennessee Air National Guard based in Knoxville, $1.82 million for land acquisition for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, $20.8 million for operations and maintenance of the Tennessee River and $34.6 million to continue design, land acquisition and construction of the new Chickamauga Lock.
Middle Tennessee- more than $107 million to support troops and maintain facilities at Fort Campbell, more than $115 million to operate and maintain existing locks and dams, $634,500 for the Davidson County Mental Health and Drug Courts to meet the needs of the mentally ill in the Nashville-area criminal justice system and $487,000 for a comprehensive math and science teacher training program.
West Tennessee- $2.1 million to fund construction of Interstate 69, more than $11 million for the Tennessee Air National Guard based at Memphis International, and $1.8 million to combat an increase in violent crime and gang activity in the Memphis region.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 76 to 17 to 1.
The omnibus bill now must be approved again by the House before going to the President for his signature.