Senate appropriations panel uses back door to OK pork-barrel projects

October 16, 1990|By David Hess | David Hess,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- When it comes to preserving the sanctity of the congressional pork barrel, the Senate rarely lacks for ingenuity -- even in this era of tight budgets and fierce arguments over spending priorities.

Making a wide turn around restrictions imposed last year on pork-barrel projects, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee added $50 million worth of home-state items to a massive spending bill by creating a brand new category of federal grants.

The bill, now awaiting final action by a Senate-House conference committee, appropriates $78.6 billion in fiscal year 1991 for housing, veterans, space and environmental programs. While the total cost of the home-state projects is small compared with the overall price of the bill, the money represents only a down payment on many of them. By the time they are completed, they will cost several times more than the amount provided in this year's bill.

The home-state projects, labeled "special purpose grants," are included in the housing section of the bill and circumvent an accord reached last year between lawmakers and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp. HUD was been wracked by scandal because of projects awarded by Mr. Kemp's predecessor to clients of "influence peddling" former officials and political consultants.

Under the accord, there was at least a tacit pledge by Congress not to load up the housing bill with earmarked projects that helped members bring home the bacon.

"Our understanding in the HUD reform bill, which was intended to eliminate many of the other abuses in [our] programs, was not to use the spending bill as a vehicle for these narrowly focused projects," a HUD spokesman said. "Now look what we've got."

What HUD got was a Senate bill with 27 pet projects sponsored by members of the appropriations panel.

For example, Sen. Jake Garn, R-

Utah, got $500,000 in "seed money" to finance high-tech business in two cities. In all, Mr. Garn got four projects, worth $1.75 million, for his state.

In addition, a 28th project was added on the Senate floor to move a charity-feeding kitchen in Kansas City, Kan., as a favor to Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., who is running for re-election.

Several other projects also appeared to be aimed at helping hard-pressed incumbents -- including Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Tom Har

kin, D-Iowa; Paul Simon, D-Ill.; David Pryor, D-Ark.; Jim Exon, D-Neb., and Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii -- win re-election. Mr. Harkin is the only member of the committee.

Mr. Akaka got his projects courtesy of the committee's third-ranking Democrat, Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye: a $1.2 million road and sewer project and a $500,000 water system.

Angered by the Senate's action, Mr. Kemp may get the last laugh. As the bill stands now, the Bush administration is threatening to veto it.

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