Bill to spare U.S. economy from debt crisis also delivers favors

Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle and David Lawder

WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - The last-minute bill to averta potentially catastrophic U.S. default and reopen thegovernment came in at a relatively skimpy 35 pages, butlawmakers still managed to pack in some special favors.

Such stop-gap funding measures often include so-called"anomalies" to address special needs that would otherwise behandled in normal spending bills.

This time, they range from flood relief to funds to speedclaims for veterans benefits to money for a dam project.

The Senate and House of Representatives passed thelegislation late on Wednesday, sending it to President BarackObama for his signature.

Within its few pages, the measure contains $450 million forColorado flood relief and more than $600 million for firemanagement and fire suppression, after devastating blazes inCalifornia and other states.

It also includes $2.455 billion to help the VeteransAdministration deal with a huge claims backlog that has angeredand frustrated former soldiers, many of whom have been waitingyears for health coverage and other benefits.

Further, the plan includes a $1.2 billion authorizationincrease - to $2.918 billion - for a dam project that is partlyin Kentucky. Some conservative groups blasted Kentucky SenatorMitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who helped reachthe deal, for supporting a project in his own state.

The project has been under construction for more than 20years and is far over budget. It originally was supposed to cost$775 million. However, the funding was approved by the WhiteHouse, not McConnell, and the project is in Illinois as well asKentucky.

The legislation also includes a $174,000 payment to BonnieEnglebardt Lautenberg, the widow of New Jersey Senator FrankLautenberg, who died in June.

Lautenberg was a respected New Jersey Democrat. He was amulti-millionaire, but Senate traditions honor late senatorswith a cash payment to their survivors.

And it extends an authority for the Department of Defense tocontinue to support African forces pursuing Joseph Kony and theLord's Resistance Army.

Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International CriminalCourt, waged a brutal fight against the government in northernUganda for nearly two decades before fleeing with his fightersinto the jungles of central Africa around 2005.

The measure has several provisions to ensure that furloughedfederal workers receive pay they missed during the 16-dayshutdown. And it provides $9.248 billion for the operations ofthe Federal Aviation Administration to prevent budget cuts fromdisrupting the work of air traffic controllers and safetyinspectors.

Also notable is what the 35 pages do not include.

Congress likely was wise to spell out that its members willnot see any pay increase as a result of the deal. The billstates that members will not receive any cost of livingadjustments during the fiscal year 2014 that began on Oct. 1.

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