- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

On Page One of The Washington Post, Memorial Day Weekend, appeared this story: The Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois’ J. Dennis Hastert, is attacked for having “earmarked $24 million” to recognized “nonprofit groups since becoming speaker in 1999.”

These groups — surprise — are in his congressional district. They include a university grant for teacher training, a hospital grant for medical equipment, including “lab information systems” and “fetal monitoring,” support to “health programs for women and children,” assistance for “low-income families” and aid to a nonprofit teaching skills to the disabled. And the story? There is none.

Why the inflammatory headline, “Hastert directs millions to birthplace”? Aren’t members of Congress expected to seek resources for their districts? Yes, until we banish taxes, our Constitution directs that 535 members of Congress figure out how to spend federal revenues. Today, this means allocating literally trillions of dollars to 281 million Americans.

Why the attack on Mr. Hastert’s $24 million?

(1) He is a fiscal conservative, which makes him a prime target for a federal spending story. The implication is his constituents deserve nothing, since he advocates lower federal spending.

(2) He is a friend and colleague of Majority Leader Tom Delay, recently battling House Democrats and prime-time television to regain a sullied reputation. Mr. Delay has yet to get a fair hearing, but swipes at Republican leadership are now, apparently, in vogue.

(3) Mr. Hastert is just too straight-shooting, honest and unprickly for reporters who love intrigue. He was an unsung high school teacher for 16 years, has a brother and wife who have taught at least that long, worked tirelessly for decades on health-care legislation, and cares instinctively about the common folk in his birth-district.

But that won’t cut it. There must be more to a top conservative’s support for the good people of his district.

Well, in fact, there is a bit more. His district is one-third Hispanic, with a rightful claim to targeted educational support. Beyond hospitals, it has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest lead poisoning levels in the country — with a record-setting 1,660 cases last year on Aurora’s East side alone, creating a legitimate claim on medical support.

More to the point, Mr. Hastert’s district has a lower median income than half the country — lower, for example, than the median income of the San Francisco district represented by top Democrat and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

On closer examination, the real story is that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert received far less federal money over the last three years than did his opposite number, the leading Democrat and House Minority Leader… Nancy Pelosi.

How much more did Mrs. Pelosi receive than Mr. Hastert? About 10 times more. A close examination of the last three years, invited by The Washington Post’s story, is revealing.

Between 2003 and 2005, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, by her own admission, racked up more than $300 million in federal dollars for her district, much of it for little-known nonprofits. By way of example, Mrs. Pelosi boasts pulling down:

• $1.4 million to “retrofit” a “Conservatory of Flowers.”

• $32 million for local Homeland Security.

• $55 million for “Bay Area … Wetlands Restoration,” including a multimillion-dollar “study of erosion” at “Ocean Beach,” “drift removal” and “a strategy… to dispose of dredged material in an environmentally sound manner.”

• $2.5 million to revitalize a post office “parade ground.”

• $20 million for HIV/AIDS initiatives.

• $5 million for research on “protecting American troops from chemical and biological threats” (despite her view that there were none in Iraq).

• $5 million for the University of California’s alcoholism center.

• $3 million for muscular atrophy research.

• $2 million to research “the effect of lifestyle and diet” on cancer.

• $120 million for local transportation projects, including San Francisco’s subways, “bikeways,” bridges and $2 million for “85 vehicles” that are part of “City Carshare, a nonprofit” in San Francisco.

• $2.4 million to test “a zero emission… ferry.”

• $25.5 million to “preserve landmarks,” including $4.2 million for a “lumbering schooner,” more for an “immigration museum,” “Filipino Cultural Center,” “dome” on Market street, and other “historic treasures.”

c $2 million for the University of San Francisco’s “Center for Science and the Environment.”

c $400,000 for a “Charity Cultural Center” on Asian Immigrants.

c $200,000 for the Hastings College “Gender and Refugee Studies” program.

• $350,000 for “minority nurse training.”

• $150,000 for a “health and environmental resource center.”

• $1 million for “park access and trails.”

• $591,000 for “the International Museum of Women.”

And the list goes on. All this produces — a real story. Taking a shot at one honest congressman who happens to be the speaker gets you nowhere. Mr. Hastert is a model congressman, serving both his district and America with fidelity, balance, proportion and decency.

If you want to see old-fashioned pork barrel spending at its unbridled best, look no further than the “leadership bounty” claimed by one top member of the other party.

There, my friends, is your $300-million Page One story.

Robert B. Charles is the former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, and a former member of the staff of Rep. J. Dennis Hastert.

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