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

U.S. President Barack Obama leaves the briefing room of the White House in Washington after the Senate passed the bill to reopen the governm
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves the briefing room of the White House in Washington after the Senate passed the bill to reopen the governm

By Patricia Zengerle and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The last-minute bill to avert a potentially catastrophic U.S. default and reopen the government came in at a relatively skimpy 35 pages, but lawmakers 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 be handled in normal spending bills.

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

The Senate and House of Representatives passed the legislation late on Wednesday, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Within its few pages, the measure contains $450 million for Colorado flood relief and more than $600 million for fire management and fire suppression, after devastating blazes in California and other states.

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

Further, the plan includes a $1.2 billion authorization increase - to $2.918 billion - for a dam project that is partly in Kentucky. Some conservative groups blasted Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who helped reach the deal, for supporting a project in his own state.

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

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

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

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

Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, waged a brutal fight against the government in northern Uganda for nearly two decades before fleeing with his fighters into the jungles of central Africa around 2005.

The measure has several provisions to ensure that furloughed federal workers receive pay they missed during the 16-day shutdown. And it provides $9.248 billion for the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration to prevent budget cuts from disrupting the work of air traffic controllers and safety inspectors.

Also notable is what the 35 pages do not include.

Congress likely was wise to spell out that its members will not see any pay increase as a result of the deal. The bill states that members will not receive any cost of living adjustments during the fiscal year 2014 that began on October 1.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Eric Walsh)

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