The House-Senate conference report that came with a $400 billion
spending bill enacted last month contains a little extra reading
material you won't find in the actual bill.
It includes page after page of what are commonly known as earmarks. Critics derisively call it "pork barrel" spending, since most of the money goes to parochial projects in lawmakers' home states and districts.
The Department of Education's portion of the fiscal 2003 budget has more than $350 million in earmarks. None of those projects was subject to a grant competition. And the agency won't use a poverty formula to target the money to needy children.
The Philadelphia Orchestra will get $175,000 for educational programs. Iowa will get yet another installment, this time $7 million, for its school-construction demonstration program.
A rough count showed 99 earmarks totaling about $40 million for Pennsylvania and 26 earmarks for about $21 million for Iowa. It comes as little surprise those states made out so well. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is the ranking Democrat.
One earmark was especially curious. The University of Akron in Ohio will get $500,000 to pay for the "Exercise in Hard Choices" program, courtesy of Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio. The program is designed "to help citizens and students understand the federal budget process," the conference report says. Really.
"There are days when I think I can't be surprised," said Chris Kinnan, a spokesman for Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington-based watchdog group. "And then I am." He suggested lawmakers should sign up for the program.
But Carol Cox Wait argues that this $500,000 isn't pork. Ms. Wait—the president of the Washington-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which will be getting a subgrant from the University of Akron to continue its work on the project—said "pork" is inserted for a purely local interest. This long-standing project serves a "broad national purpose," she said.
Of course, earmarks aside, there's another reason the budget item is intriguing: It came in a spending bill Congress completed four months late.
Oh, and lawmakers never got around to agreeing on a budget resolution either. What's that? Sign up for "Hard Choices" and you'll find out.
—Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 22, Issue 26, Page 25Published in Print: March 12, 2003, as Federal File