By Peter Urban
By Peter Urban
Stephens Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final passage Thursday night of a $128 billion spending bill that would fund the departments of agriculture, commerce, justice and transportation through the fiscal year.
The legislation, which would also keep other agencies running until Dec. 16, cleared the Senate, 70-30. The House approved it earlier in the day, 298-121.
The entire Arkansas delegation supported the bill that includes $60 million in funding for the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson County.
“Americans want evidence that Congress can actually get things done. Committee leadership, members, and conferees on both sides of the aisle deserve to be commended for this effort,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
House and Senate negotiators hammered out a final agreement on the bill earlier in the week after conflicting versions were approved in the separate chambers.
The legislation wraps together several annual appropriations bills needed to set agency spending for the 2012 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
The bill included a temporary extension of funding for other agencies that Congress has yet to reach an agreement on.
The NCTR funding had been in dispute before. The original House bill included $51.5 million while the Senate wanted $60 million. The Senate prevailed in conference.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, issued a press release Thursday expressing their support for the bill and touting some of the funds that will benefit the state.
“Our budget is tight, but we were able to make smart, targeted investments in infrastructure, agriculture and business development,” Pryor said.
“This bill reduces federal spending, while creating jobs right here in Arkansas,” Ross said.
Aside from the NCTR funding, Ross said the bill “supports our farmers, helps rebuild our roads and bridges and helps communities recover after all the natural disasters we had this year.”
Arkansas should receive about $481 million for highway improvements from the $39.1 billion set aside for the Highway Administration. Several state projects could also tap into other highway, transit and airport funds made available in the bill, Ross and Pryor said.
There may also be commerce funds available to help establish or expand science parks as well as strengthen the Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers, they said.
Womack said the bill reflects the need for Congress to reduce federal spending.
“We have a long way to go, but this is another step in the right direction,” he said.