WASHINGTON -- It was a happy day in the House yesterday.
After weeks of bitter contention over how to slash $500 billion from the federal budget over the next five years, members lined up to do what they most savor -- hand out federal money for hometown projects, only 18 days before the election.
Three major money bills -- for highways and airports, for energy and water and for military construction -- were all on the floor in the same day, containing billions in hometown spending.
Party distinctions were blurred as Republicans and Democrats rose in support of one another's projects.
For instance, Representative John T. Myers of Indiana, a senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Representative Lindy Boggs, D-La., in defending several university medical research projects they and others had inserted in the energy and water bill.
Representative Robert S. Walker, R-Pa., an irrepressible critic of pork-barrel spending, questioned the propriety of Appropriations Committee members slipping hometown goodies into spending bills without weighing them against possibly more worthy projects.
Taking aim at medical research projects tucked away under the unlikely heading "energy supply," Mr. Walker declared: "Somehow or another we ought to find a system for getting the very best science without the money going for things that are funded simply because they're in a particular member's district."
Mr. Walker got minimal support from his colleagues, most of whom had a piece of the action in one or another of the bills. His effort to strip the research projects from the bill was buried, 308 to 108.
The bill was adopted 362 to 51.
our best judgment," Mr. Myers purred afterward, "these are facilities that are vitally needed."
The facility he slipped into the bill was an "advanced technology center" for Indiana State University in Terre Haute. When Mr. Myers' subcommittee initially accepted his project, Indiana State officials could not readily describe what the money was for.
The $89.8 million for the medical facilities was but a fraction of the money devoted to hometown projects in the three bills. In many cases, the projects wound up in the money bills as a result of their sponsors' membership on the Appropriations subcommittees or access to influential committee members.
In the highway and airways bill, for instance, there was $1.5 million for aviation research at Wichita State University in Kansas, home state of Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole.
There was also $5.95 million for a "highway demonstration" project on U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, Fla., $12 million for a Miami mass transit project and $3.7 million for a causeway tunnel in Fort Lauderdale, thanks in part to Florida Democrat William Lehman, chairman of the transportation appropriations subcommittee.
Pennsylvania got $7.7 million for several highway demonstration projects, including $1,360,000 for a bypass between Montgomeryville and Doylestown. Three senior members of the House Appropriations Committee are from Pennsylvania.
The transportation measure passed by a 394-17 vote.
Among the most popular ways of bringing home the bacon is in the form of new construction or expansion of National Guard and military reserve facilities. Indeed, they are so popular that House and Senate conferees on the military construction bill actually approved more money for armories than either house alone had authorized.