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A sorry spending bill.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Quick quiz: The $388 billion omnibus spending bill approved last weekend by Congress is:

A) A shamefully wasteful measure that includes nearly 12,000 pork-barrel projects nationwide ranging from a mariachi music research project in Arizona to the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Texas.

B) A much-needed spending bill that contains federal funding for a long list of critically important Lane County and Oregon projects, including a $5 million appropriation for street improvements around the new federal courthouse in Eugene and $6.1 million for dredging the Port of Coos Bay.

C) An appallingly tightfisted measure that underfunds vital domestic programs ranging from Pell Grants that provide tuition assistance to needy college students to conservation programs that help farmers protect soil and water.

D) All of the above.

If you picked "D," you guessed correctly. The final spending bill of the year is all of these things, which explains why members of the 108th Congress aren't knocking each other over to claim credit for the overall bill but are quite happy to boast about federally funded projects that are headed to their states.

After the bill's passage, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, issued a news release that listed, among other things, the funding for courthouse district street improvements, $4 million to buy vehicles for the planned bus rapid transit corridor between Eugene and Springfield and $1.25 million for an instrument landing system for the new runway at Eugene Airport.

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Gordon Smith, a Republican, issued a joint statement that shared credit for $2.7 million in appropriations for nanotechnology and biotechnology-related funding for Oregon Health & Science University and a long list of other projects, ranging from $6.29 million for "wood utilization research" at Oregon State University to $13 million for salmon recovery in the state.

Other lawmakers were doing the same across the country. In Alaska, Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski noted the approval of federal funding for the state's salmon industry, including money earmarked for research on the use of salmon as a baby food. In Alabama, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby boasted about the allocation of $4 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center, while Michigan's Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, cited $4 million for an environmentally friendly public transportation system in Traverse City.

There's nothing new about "bringing home the bacon" from Washington, although much of the bacon from other parts of the country seems to have an unusual amount of fat this year. Examples include $1 million allocated for the Norwegian American Foundation in Seattle, $100,000 for a weather museum in Punxsutawney, Pa., or $335,000 to protect North Dakota's sunflowers from blackbirds.

In fairness, Oregonians should keep in mind that "pork" often exists only in the eyes of the beholder. It's not hard to imagine the citizens of Pennsylvania or North Dakota shaking their heads at the bill's funding of a barley gene mapping project at Oregon State University or the remodeling of a cafeteria at Crater Lake National Park.

However, it's safe to say that few lawmakers anywhere are boasting about the spending bill's failure to adequately fund basic federal programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which fell nearly $400 million below President Bush's insufficient request. Pell Grants were frozen for the second year in a row, and the bill authorized the Education Department to revise its financial-assistance formula, a move expected to result in 100,000 fewer students receiving grants.

If Congress hadn't approved a series of massive tax cuts over the past four years, it would have been able to adequately fund these and other basic programs, as well as engage in the time-honored practice of funding lawmakers' requests for targeted spending (or "pork" - take your choice) in their home districts.

Who knows - they might even have had enough money left over to cover those unfunded Oregon delegation requests for $15 million for the Interstate 5/Belt Line Road interchange, the $2 million for the extension of the South Bank Trail in Eugene or the additional $400,000 needed to dredge the Port of Siuslaw.

Without those tax cuts, lawmakers might even have been able to boast about their overall spending plan - and not just the projects they snagged for their own districts.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Tax cuts force cuts to essential programs
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 26, 2004
Next Article:What else is in the bill?

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