The conference report's "compromise" Labor-HHS bill at $151 billion was actually more expensive than either the House or Senate version. It contains a $1 million earmark for a Thomas Daschle Center for Public Service and Representative Democracy at South Dakota State University to honor the former Senate majority leader who was defeated for re-election in 2004. Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd and Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Daschle Center was one of nine earmarks "airdropped" into the final version by the Senate-House conference without being passed by either the Senate or House. Silently removed from the bill by the conference report was the prohibition, passed by the Senate in a rare defeat for earmarkers, against spending $1 million for the Woodstock "hippies" museum in Bethel, N.Y.
In the past, if a point of order against an appropriations bill was affirmed, the whole bill would die. But a new rule pressed by Democrats this year made it possible to split veterans spending away from Labor-HHS without killing the bill. All 46 Republican senators present voted to sustain the point of order, so that the Senate fell 13 votes short of the 60 votes needed to keep the two bills together.
Consequently, the Senate last Tuesday again had to pass the bloated Labor-HHS bill. It did, but by a 56 to 37 margin, short of a veto-proof majority, as 19 Republican senators changed their affirmative vote from the last time they considered this bill. In an extraordinary outburst against the 19 switchers, Majority Leader Reid called them "sheep and chickens" who had "chosen to defend a failed president." In truth, he had just lost an audacious ploy.