WASHINGTON -- The Senate could vote as early as tonight on a $97 billion spending bill that contains more than $20 million for Maryland projects as mundane as treating sewage water and as majestic as searching the heavens.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill, a bipartisan measure that provides money for the nation's programs for veterans, housing, the environment, space exploration and disaster relief programs. The measure includes significant spending cuts from past years forced by tight budget caps.
Last week, the House passed its version of the bill with much deeper reductions in spending. Senior administration advisers have recommended that President Clinton veto either of the bills as they now stand, though the final legislation might restore enough money to win the president's signature.
This bill "is always such a contentious bill because there's so much in there," said Stan Collender, a Washington budget analyst with Fleishman-Hillard, a consulting firm.
"They have added a lot of money in recent weeks to that bill. The question here is where they come out" after reconciling the House and the Senate bills.
Other bills raided
Because of the severity of the budget caps, key lawmakers raided the bill for labor, health and education programs to pay for the veterans and housing expenditures.
As Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland is the chief Democratic author of the Senate spending bill, it is no surprise that pet projects from all parts of the state are to be favored with federal largess -- though there are fewer such projects than in the past.
Among other items, the bill includes:
$15 million for the Applied Physics Lab of the Johns Hopkins University under a NASA program that conducts research on how the sun's properties affect Earth.
$5 million to improve sewage treatment facilities in Cambridge and Salisbury.
$1.25 million to revitalize the corridor along U.S. 1 in Prince George's County.
$1.25 million for development and teaching facilities at a coastal ecology research center to be run by the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
$750,000 for the Chesapeake Bay small watersheds grants program of the Environmental Protection Agency.
$750,000 for the not-for-profit Patterson Park Community Development Fund to acquire and rehabilitate dilapidated buildings in East Baltimore.
Goddard work included
In addition, the Senate bill would provide the $1.4 billion requested by the administration for the Earth sciences research component of NASA programs, out of which the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt receives most of its budget.
The measure passed by the House would cut $285 million from that program's total.
"Even the current Senate measure would cause us to have to delay several small missions, and selections of missions to come, that might involve Goddard or Hopkins," said Doug Isbell, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman.
For example, Isbell said, the launch by Goddard of the Next Generation Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble, could be delayed if spending levels are not boosted.
Even as the measure was being debated on the floor yesterday, negotiations among lawmakers continued.
"Senator Mikulski has repeatedly said this is a work in progress," said Johanna Ramos-Boyer, a spokeswoman for the senator. "There are so many amendments that they're dealing with right now, that they may work out all the kinks. Who knows?"