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McCaskill calls for spending cap; Obama signs Carnahan buildings bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 14, 2010 - WASHINGTON - Declaring that she is "confident that we have the votes," U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Tuesday that that she and allies will push hard this week to amend the catchall federal spending bill to include a three-year cap on future discretionary spending.

The senator also told reporters that she decided to vote this week in favor of the tax-cut package negotiated by President Barack Obama with Republicans -- despite her concerns about its $858 billion cost over a decade and its extension of Bush-era tax cuts to millionaires -- because it was the only way to save tax cuts for the middle class.

"The tax cuts for the middle class, and what that means for our economy, were worth what we had to give up on this bill; that's what compromise is all about," McCaskill said. "Next year, we're going to have to look at all three legs of the stool," she said, including spending, entitlements and the tax code. "Can we bring down tax rates if we do away with the special goodies for the very rich?" she asked.

On the spending side, McCaskill said, "I think it's time to pull the trigger" on the initiative she is sponsoring with conservative U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Al. - which has been voted down by the Senate several times - that would restrict increases in non-defense discretionary spending to an average of 1 percent and cap defense spending at an average of 1.7 percent a year over the next three years.

"I will not vote for the spending bill that's going to be put in front of the Senate unless [Democratic leaders] put the Sessions-McCaskill spending cap legislation in it," McCaskill said. She referred to the fiscal year 2011 omnibus spending bill that lumps the dozen pending appropriations bills together to keep the government operating. She has voted in the past against such catchall bills, she said, because "they are not transparent enough and, generally speaking, some of the earmarking in them has been too high."

Meanwhile in the House...

While McCaskill came out in support of the tax-cut package, many U.S. House Democrats -- including U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis -- continued to express concerns about some of its provisions. A House effort to amend the tax-cut package is expected this week.

While Carnahan was still taking a look at the details of that package, he got some good news Tuesday when President Barack Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill that he had coauthored that aims to reduce the amount of energy used by the federal government in its buildings across the nation.

The new law, called the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act, requires federal buildings -- such as the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse and the Robert A. Young federal building in St. Louis -- to be properly maintained and operated at their highest performance levels to conserve energy. Carnahan had introduced the bill on Earth Day along with Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., and U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Susan Collins, R-Me.

"Sustainability and energy conservation aren't just about the air we breathe or the water we drink. They are about saving money for families, businesses and taxpayers," said Carnahan, the co-chair of the congressional caucus on high-performance buildings.

The new law will require the General Services Administration -- the federal agency in charge of government buildings -- to list ways for employees to maintain federal buildings in way that is consistent with industry best practices on energy conservation and related issues.

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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