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Two Democrats urge Obama to veto spending bill

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Sens. Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold say they'll vote against spending bill
  • House leader says Dems need to cut down on the number of earmarks
  • Sen. John McCain offers amendment to freeze spending at '08 levels
  • Current spending bill keeps the federal government operating through September 30
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two Senate Democrats urged President Obama Wednesday to veto a $410 billion spending bill and said they are going to vote against it, criticizing it for its cost and for including too many personal pet projects.

The U.S. Senate is voting this week on an emergency spending bill for FY09.

The U.S. Senate is voting this week on an emergency spending bill for FY09.

"I don't think we should pass it [spending bill] this way," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said on CNN's The Situation Room Wednesday. "[I'd like] to have the president veto it and say 'clean it up, do it over.'"

Feingold added: "If that doesn't happen I think he should ... lay down a policy and [say] 'OK, this was stuff from last year ... but from now on don't send me appropriations bills with earmarks or I'll send it back to you.' I would love to see him say that."

The legislation in question is an omnibus bill that would keep the federal government running through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September 2009.

The legislation includes $7.7 billion in earmarks, which are unrelated pet projects that members of Congress insert in spending bills.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, said those who vote in favor of the bill "jeopardize their credibility."

"But the bloated omnibus requires sacrifice from no one, least of all the government. It only exacerbates the problem and hastens the day of reckoning," Bayh wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial published Wednesday.

"Voters rightly demanded change in November's election, but this approach to spending represents business as usual in Washington, not the voters' mandate."

During the election season, Bayh was considered one of the front-runners to be Obama's vice president.

Other Democrats have defended the size of the spending bill, saying it is necessary to help counter the economic downturn and restore budget cuts made under former President George Bush.

Obama is expected to sign it bill when it crosses his desk.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the legislation needs to be passed because the government has to "deal with last year's business" and said Obama will work with Congress to reduce earmarks in the future.

"The president believes the best way to reduce wasteful spending is to work with Congress in order to do that," Gibbs said. "We have seen throughout the past few years that the amount in the number of earmarks in the legislation has been cut significantly. The president believes we can do even more and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that that happens."

Gibbs said Monday that the Obama administration was formulating guidelines for earmark reform.

The following day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer declared that Congress, not Obama, will decide whether to put more limits on earmarks in upcoming spending bills.

Asked about Gibbs' statement, Hoyer said flatly, "I don't think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do."

He paused deliberately and quipped to reporters in the room, "I hope you all got that down."

Hoyer pointed out that Democrats have cut down the number of earmarks and now require that all requests get posted on the Internet. But, he conceded, "I think there are additional things we can do and consider."

And the Maryland Democrat added, "It is certainly appropriate for the White House to suggest ways of going forward so that we can have agreement between the White House and ourselves."

He said congressional leaders have talked to the White House about "concerns it had," but refused to offer any specifics.

CNN reported Monday that, according to Democratic sources at a White House meeting last week, Obama urged Democratic leaders to "limit" future earmarks and, in what one official described as a "tense" exchange, the leaders told the president they'll do what they can to continue reform, but that earmarking projects for districts and states is a prerogative of Congress.

Hoyer, who attended the White House meeting, vigorously defended earmark requests Tuesday, calling them "the congressional initiative process."

The majority leader dismissed a reporter's question on whether the $410 billion spending bill for the rest of this year is becoming an "embarrassment" to Obama, and reiterated Obama's argument that the package is "last year's business."

Hoyer also said that even though Obama, then a senator, did not request any earmarks in last year's spending bill, he did request projects for Illinois in prior years he served in the Senate.

Longtime pork barrel spending critic Sen. John McCain, who opposes earmarks, offered an amendment to the spending bill Tuesday that would have frozen spending at 2008 levels through the 2009 fiscal year, which ends September 30. McCain's amendment failed to pass Tuesday, which means the spending bill made up of about 1 percent earmarks will now go to a vote.

Critics, including McCain, have said the excessive spending in the bill would be contrary to the president's recent pledge to cut unnecessary government spending and pork-laden earmarks.

Several members of Obama's administration served in Congress and have earmarks listed on the bill.

Vice President Joe Biden requested $750,000 for a University of Delaware program during his time as a senator from that state. Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who was a Democratic congressman from Illinois, requested $900,000 for a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

An Emanuel aide told CNN on Monday the request was submitted more than a year ago and is leftover business.

But Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said Washington is in a "state of denial."

"It seems that every morning you pick up the newspaper, you're reading about another multibillion-dollar government spending plan being proposed or, even worse, passed. ... We become numb to what the dollar figures really mean, or the obligation that accompanies them," he said in the weekly Republican address Saturday.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the $410 billion spending bill. House GOP leaders said the spending increases in the bill -- $31 billion more than the previous fiscal year -- are too large.

The bill passed on a largely party-line 245-178 vote, with most Democrats voting in favor of it and most Republicans opposed.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group, listed some of the earmarks being proposed by members on both side of the aisle.Read more of the group's analysis

CNN's Dana Bash, Ted Barrett, Ed Hornick, Lauren Kornreich and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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