- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

House Republican leaders, as part of their quest to limit spending, are discussing a plan that would require lawmakers to justify in writing any pork project that they want included in a federal spending bill.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, came up with the idea, which is being discussed among leaders and with House committee chairmen.

Though details remain uncertain, the idea is that a member who wants a bridge, museum or any other special project for his or her district to be included in the annual spending bill will have to provide written justification for the request. The lawmaker’s name and explanation would be linked to the pork item when it appears in the final legislation.

A House Republican leadership aide explained that while many earmarked items are justified, “there are stupid things that government money shouldn’t be spent on.”

There were a host of special projects in this year’s budget, including $325,000 for a swimming pool in Salinas, Calif.; $360,000 for Citrus Waste Utilization in Winter Haven, Fla.; $725,000 for the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia; $315,000 for termite research; $270,000 for potato storage and $1.5 million for “Operation Streetsweeper.”

The leadership aide said the new plan would mean lawmakers who draft federal spending bills each year would “end up with a lot less requests” for such items, simply because “many members aren’t going to ask for it if it’s their name next to it with a written justification.”

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, has been on a mission to do away with such earmarks altogether and expects to present leadership with a proposal this week.

His spokesman, Matt Specht, said he hadn’t heard of the leadership plan, but it “would be the next best thing” to an outright ban.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the number of pork projects skyrocketed from under 2,000 five years ago to 9,362 in the 2003 budget.

But some said targeting earmarks isn’t the best way to save money.

“They’re a convenient target, but it’s less than 1 percent of the federal budget,” House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said.

And House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, thinks much more money can be saved by reducing waste, fraud and abuse in the government’s massive mandatory-spending side — entitlement programs like Medicare, food stamps and student loans.

Mandatory spending accounts for 55 percent of the federal budget, while the discretionary spending that Congress deals with each year in its spending bills accounts for around 30 percent, said Mr. Nussle’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.

“A lot of stuff on the [discretionary] side looks absurd … but we’d much rather see the focus on the mandatory side, where the abuse is much greater,” Mr. Spicer said.

Aides on both sides of the aisle defended earmarks, saying many are completely necessary. The government would spend money on bridges and roads anyway, and individual congressmen often know best what their states need, as opposed to a federal bureaucrat making those decisions, the aides said.

The Republican leadership aide agreed, but said that doesn’t change the fact that some pork is just wasteful. And the aide conceded that the new pork plan “is not going to balance the budget,” but said it would “send a message … that [lawmakers] are serious about reducing government spending.”

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