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The Old Pork Ball Game

December 07, 2004 2 min read
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The big spending package passed by Congress in its recent lame-duck session may have put the squeeze on the Department of Education, but the folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum surely won’t be complaining.

After all, they’re slated to get $450,000 of the department’s appropriation. Tucked into the sprawling omnibus bill for fiscal 2005 are thousands of such earmarks—which critics call “pork barrel” spending—for projects in lawmakers’ home states and districts that faced no public debate on their merit.

An Education Week analysis found nearly 1,200 earmarks, for a total of more than $400 million, in the Education Department’s discretionary budget of $56.6 billion.

The money for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., would help conduct “educational outreach using baseball to teach students through distance learning,” according to the conference report for the budget bill.

Jeff S. Arnett, the museum’s director of education and public programs, said the initiative uses baseball to educate students in science, math, history, and other subjects.

“Baseball is providing a platform for correlating with the standards,” he said.

Several lawmakers apparently pushed for the earmark, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. The senator’s office did not respond to a press inquiry on the matter.

But critics, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., call earmarks bad policy. “At a time of war, and with an ever-growing deficit, the Appropriations Committee has succeeded, once again, in loading up a must-pass bill with everyday, run-of-the-mill pork projects,” he said Nov. 20 on the Senate floor.

Earmarks circumvent the usual process of doling out education aid through formulas tied to poverty and population, and competitions that assess quality. This year’s batch comes as spending for many long-standing Education Department programs stayed flat or fell in a budget that lifted the agency’s discretionary spending by less than 2 percent. (“2005 Budget Drops Below Bush Request,” Dec. 1, 2004.)

After-school programs were popular earmarks, with a long list for school districts and organizations. Beyond that, the largess runs the gamut. The Washington National Opera is down for $150,000 for educational programs. The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association in Chicago is slated to receive $130,000 for “program expansion and improvement.” And the Alaska Hospitality Alliance Education Foundation is poised to get $100,000 for training high school students.

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