WASHINGTON — So much for a “clean” bill. The measure passed by Congress to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling also contains some goodies and gifts tucked into the 35-page bill.
There’s more money — a lot more — for a dam project on the Ohio River and millions of cash for Colorado flooding repair projects. And the wealthy widow of a late U.S. senator will receive a year’s pay as a death benefit.
You have to hand it to a Congress that finds no bill is off limits for pork.
“These people are like alcoholics. They can’t resist taking a drink. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to the Daily Beast, referring to the dam project. “It shows that there are people in this body who are willing to use any occasion to get an outrageous pork-barrel project done at the cost of millions and millions of dollars. It’s disgusting.”
Here are five most surprising provisions to the bill:
1. RIVER PROJECT
Kentucky kickback?: $2.2 billion. That’s the amount in additional cash authorized for a project that involved a dam and decades-old locks on a river that flows through Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Sounds kinda fishy, but a Democratic senate aid and a Republican senator say it’s on the level. The aide tells CNN that McConnell didn’t push for the project to be included. And Sen. Lamar Alexander, who’s a key figure on the committee that oversees what water projects get what money, says he and another senator asked for the cash. He tells CNN’s Chris Frates the new money — which more tha triples the original $775 million — will save the federal government many millions because contracts won’t be canceled due to work stoppages. Still, the Senate Conservatives Fund calls the money a “Kentucky Kickback.”
2. FLOOD RECOVERY FUNDS
Bridge to somewhere: This one’s a lot less controversial than the river project money. Congress OK’d $450 million for rebuilding projects in flood-struck areas of Colorado. That’s well over the limit of $100 million for the Department of Transportation as allowed in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. Wednesday’s authorization used similar language to a bill that died last month after the House declined to vote on it, according to Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado. He said Coloradans had been resilient, but they needed the money because “it’s time to let us get to work” rebuilding roads and bridges wiped out by overflowing rivers.
3. LATE SENATOR’S WIDOW
For decades of service: Frank Lautenberg served in the Senate for almost 30 years. He died in June of viral pneumonia. This nation owed him a great deal. Congress has almost always approved a death benefit gift to the family equal to one year’s salary, which they provided for Lautenberg’s widow, Bonnie, in the bill. The thing is … Lautenberg was one of the richest members of Congress and was worth more than $59 million as of 2011, according to The Hill. You can see why some people think it might not be a terrible thing to forgo a few hundred thousand bucks to the family.
4. OTHER WINNERS
Ssssh, we’re getting a big check: There were more agencies that got big money in the bill. Agencies that fight wildfires could get as much as $636 million, depending on how bad it gets in the next year. The mine safety department is getting a bump in the fees it can keep, a $1 million increase to $2.49 million. A watchdog group meant to guard Americans’ right to privacy against overreach by government cyberintelligence will get $3.1 million, which they could use considering the year they’ve had dealing with revelations about the super-secret National Security Agency’s programs. The Hill, a political newspaper, reports that’s double the top amount the five-member panel has been given before.
5. SAME PAY FOR CONGRESS
No raise this year: Down on page 20 of the bill, it says there will be no cost of living adjustment for members of Congress for the next year. Actually, it’s not that surprising. Congressional pay has held steady for years. They last received a raise four years ago. And you thought you had it rough. Wait, you don’t make $174,000 a year?