- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A measure that finances the bulk of the government’s domestic agencies also has money to boost Medicare payments to 21 Pennsylvania hospitals, help an oil museum in Texas and build a model of a mule barn in Illinois.

Following a long tradition, billions of dollars for thousands of such local projects, called earmarks or “pork,” are sprinkled throughout the wide-ranging spending package. The measure combines seven unfinished spending bills for the budget year that started Oct. 1.

When lawmakers return today for what is expected to be a brief end-of-year session, the House probably will approve the legislation, which took up 423 pages of fine print in the Congressional Record.

But disputes over gun control, overtime pay rules and other issues give it an uphill climb in the Senate, which might have to revisit it when legislators return in January.

Neither party has provided definitive figures on the number of earmarks. But one table alone lists 902 economic development projects worth $278 million, up slightly from the 882 items that cost $261 million in the same section a year ago.

This year’s list includes $200,000 for improvements to the privately financed Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas, won by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, Texas Republican.

The bill also has $150,000 for restoring buildings in the Port of LaSalle project in LaSalle, Ill., including a lock tender’s house, an interpretive center and a replica mule barn. It was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weller, Illinois Republican.

In other examples:

• Republican aides say there are $3.7 billion in earmarks for roads, mass transit, rail and airports — up from $3.3 billion last year.

cThe portion of the bill covering labor, health and education programs has 2,027 projects worth $862 million, slightly more projects than a year ago but costing a bit less. These include $16,000 for new displays for the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., and $500,000 for Gilda’s Club in Hackensack, N.J., a center for cancer patients and their families.

• The bill contains more than $190 million in projects for the Tampa Bay area of Florida, says House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and a chief author of the bill from St. Petersburg.

• Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who is up for re-election next year, is taking credit for $236 million of transportation projects for her state.

Critics say earmarks distort the objective role the government should play in dispensing taxpayer funds.

“It’s a way for politics to decide where the money goes,” says Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Riedl.

Defenders say earmarks account for a tiny portion of the overall $786 billion that this year’s regular spending bills are expected to cost.

“We think it’s perfectly appropriate for members of Congress to make decisions on what additional federal investments to make,” said John Scofield, Republican spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.


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