- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

House Democrats yesterday broke a pledge to strip pork spending from a massive funding resolution that contained about $500 million in what Republicans called questionable projects, including $44.6 million for a rainforest biosphere in Iowa and $50 million for the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

“We may have made some wrong choices; we undoubtedly did,” said Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and Appropriations Committee chairman. “At least, in contrast to last year, we made the hard choices.”

He said the projects authorized in the bill were not pork or earmarks — hidden spending provisions for lawmakers’ home districts or states — but legitimate budget items left in the lurch when Republicans failed to pass appropriations bills last year.

The resolution passed 286-140, with 57 Republicans joining the majority.

Critics said Democrats rammed through the $463.5 billion spending package without a committee hearing, without a committee mark-up process and without accepting amendments on the House floor.

“It is unfortunate that we are going to see a return to the days when you have decisions about how money is appropriated made by bureaucrats and made in smoke-filled rooms,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican. “That’s the kind of change [Americans] did not vote for when they went to the polls in November.”

What’s more, Republicans said, the legislation was fraught with accounting gimmicks to disguise higher spending. It actually increased spending, and therefore the budget deficit, by more than $6 billion from the last fiscal year, they said.

An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the Republicans were asking for “flat funding” at last year’s levels, which could be accomplished only with a $6 billion budget cut.

“There would be no funding for the veterans program,” said the aide, referring to the $3.6 billion appropriated for veterans health benefits.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the resolution completed the Republican Congress’ unfinished business and cleared the way for Democrats to fulfill promises to ban earmarks and reduce the deficit.

“We are doing this so we can move on to that process,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Earmarks in the spending package included $94 million to deliver federal services to remote Alaskan communities, $80 million for a canceled program to extend the life of W80 warheads for cruise missiles, and $49.7 million for oil and gas research already funded under the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Democrats refused to consider a Republican amendment that would have cut the earmarks and used the money for deficit reduction and increased spending on military housing and drug enforcement.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he remained eager to work with Democrats, but he vowed to hold them accountable.

“Democrats promised this massive spending bill would be earmark-free but then gave us a bill that includes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funding for earmarked pork projects,” he said.

Democratic leaders insisted the bill “cleaned up” a Republican budget mess and boosted funding for vital programs, including $620 million for medical research to cure cancer and other diseases, $216 million for the FBI and $104 million for Head Start preschools.

“There is nothing new about these Democrats,” said Rep. John Campbell, California Republican. “They are the same tax-and-spend Democrats of old, just with a new slogan.”

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