- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) — One congressman wants $50 million to build a tropical rain forest in Iowa. Another wants $225,000 to repair a swimming pool he and friends clogged with tadpoles when they were children in Nevada.

In Illinois, it’s the restoration of a historic mule barn. In Texas, an oil museum.

They’re all part of the year-end spending bill in Congress, a $373 billion package that critics say is packed with pork-barrel projects at a time Congress should be worried about soaring budget deficits.

“Pork is pork,” said Tom Schatz, president of the District-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which says the spending bill is “stuffed to the brim” with pet projects.

Last week, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, persuaded key lawmakers to set aside $50 million for the rain forest project in Coralville, just outside Iowa City. Organizers call the project an unparalleled opportunity to teach children the wonders of the jungle, showcase clean energy concepts and boost the local economy by drawing tourists from across the Midwest. It would include a 20-story translucent dome.

The rain forest, projected to cost $225 million in all, is the dream of Ted Townsend, a Des Moines businessman who became smitten with the rain forest during a visit to Africa years ago. He runs an engineering company founded by his father, who made a fortune inventing machines that strip rind from pork and stuff hot dogs at high speed.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, Nevada Republican, says his swimming-pool project has more to do with polliwogs than pork.

He says he and some friends were responsible for clogging the drain with tadpoles, causing the pool to be temporarily shut down in the 1950s. He expects Congress to approve the $225,000 to repair the 61-year-old pool in the working-class neighborhood where he grew up in Sparks.

“I have an enormous guilty conscience for putting frogs in the swimming pool when I was about 10 years old,” he said.

Like others who defend the federal money they secure for pet projects, Mr. Gibbons is not ashamed to elbow his way to the federal trough on behalf of his constituents.

After all, he reasons, everybody else in Congress does it. And if he didn’t, the money would go to somebody else’s district.

Anti-pork crusaders are unmoved.

“Every town in the country has a public swimming pool. If every one of those got $225,000 from the federal government, that’s how you end up with a $500 billion deficit,” Mr. Schatz said.

Mr. Grassley, who has reputation as a staunch fiscal conservative, declined an interview with the Associated Press, citing uncertainty over Senate approval of the bill.

The rain forest project was initially tucked into the energy bill. After some pressure from leaders in Congress, Mr. Grassley had the project removed, but it resurfaced in the spending bill. The energy bill ultimately failed.

“He doesn’t like to comment on things that aren’t finished yet,” Grassley spokesman Dustin Vande Hoef said Friday.

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