(WASHINGTON) — There are some interesting nuggets inserted into the bill designed to re-open the government and avert a default, which the U.S. Congress passed Wednesday night.
As pork goes, these are low-level on the outrage scale — depending on who you ask. One such includes a death benefit for Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s widow — a line item buried on page 20 of the 35-page bill:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this joint resolution, there is appropriated for payment to Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, widow of Frank R. Lautenberg, late a Senator from New Jersey, $174,000.”
That provision approves money for a death benefit accorded to senators and it’s common practice — though some critics were quick to point out that the former senator had more than enough means to take care of his widow without doing so on the taxpayers’ dime.
Another section of the bill hikes funding for projects along the Ohio River, portions of which flow through Illinois and Kentucky, states represented by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The bill boosts money for the projects by $2.1 billion, from an original $775 million to $2.9 billion: “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.’”
Conservatives have already floated suspicions that this could have prompted McConnell to change his tune regarding the shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., defended the Ohio River dam project, saying the project will actually save taxpayers money. “This is not an earmark. It saves the taxpayers lots of money and enables the Corps of Engineers to continue a project,” Reid told reporters at a news conference Wednesday night.
These items have been tucked into the all-important piece of legislation with just about no chance for public review. The final plan was worked out Wednesday morning by McConnell and Reid, and was put on the fast track for votes in the Senate and House of Representatives.
After a rough wildfire season over the past year, the bill provides the Forest Service with $36 million to combat wildland fires during fiscal year 2014. It also provides an additional $600 million to manage wildfires if all other funds are exhausted.
According to the bill:
“In addition to the amount otherwise provided by section 101 for ‘Department of the Interior – Department-wide Programs – Wildland Fire Management’, there is appropriated $36,000,000 for an additional amount for fiscal year 2014, to remain available until expended, for urgent wildland fire suppression activities.”
The measure also approves back pay for all federal workers — both the “essential” staff who have been on the job since Oct. 1, and more than 800,000 who were furloughed and spent some or all of that time at home. The House approved a similar measure last week.
Five states — New York, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah and Colorado — which used their own funds to reopen national parks last weekend will be reimbursed with interest under the Senate-passed plan, too. Utah had paid the federal government $1.67 million to reopen the state’s eight national parks for 10 days. New York cut a check for $61,600 a day to fund operations at the Statue of Liberty, while South Dakota paid $15,200 a day to lift the gates at Mount Rushmore. Colorado sent in $360,000 to open the Rocky Mountains to tourists. All monies will be returned, if the House approves.
Other carve-outs in the Senate bill include extra Federal Highway Administration funds for Colorado to help rebuild damaged roads and bridges after last month’s floods and more money for the Maritime Security Program, which allows the government to contract with commercial shippers and cargo vessels to support operations essential to national security along American coasts.
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