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Anybody notice that $610 billion bill?

U.S. Capitol Building

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Washington and Wall Street and most of the rest of us, to be honest, are focused on the financial markets. But there is other business afoot in Congress as lawmakers get set to wrap up the session. Like a $610 billion spending package the House passed just this afternoon while the rest of us weren't looking.

Marketplace's Steve Henn has that story.


STEVE HENN: Normally, folks have some time to scrutinize big spending bills and publicize the pork. Not this year.

Steve Ellis is at Taxpayers for Common Sense:

STEVE ELLIS: The only way the public had a chance to review this is if they could read in their sleep. They posted this at 11 p.m. last night.

So what's in this bill? A lot.

More than 2,300 separate earmarks worth more than $6 billion. That includes things like $800,000 for medicated shaving cream. And $2 million for the study of hibernation genomics in Fairbanks, Alaska, courtesy of indicted Sen. Ted Stevens.

ELLIS: He may be actually on trial this week, but he's still able to deliver the earmarks back for the state of Alaska.

Total federal debt has doubled in the last eight years and will soon surpass $11 trillion. And even though earmarks cost billions, they account for less than 1 percent of spending, says Chuck Konigsberg at the Concord Coalition.

Chuck Konigsberg: Probably closer to one-half of 1 percent.

He says the real problem began eight years ago when Congress repealed a law that forced it to pay for all new tax cuts or spending programs or face automatic across-the-board budget cuts. He says now Congress simply can't control itself.

Konigsberg: We've ended up with deficit-financed tax cuts, deficit-financed wars, and now we are looking at a deficit-financed bailout of Wall Street.

And don't forget the 2,000-plus earmarks, even though these days their $6 billion price tag is pocket change on Capitol Hill.

In Washington I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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