Budget crusaders grab some grants from the pork barrel Folks back home get lots of federal money for defense, catfish. barley malt research.

July 20, 1992|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

WASHINGTON -- With help from Sen. Phil Gramm, the University of Texas at Austin this year was awarded a $6 million defense research grant for laboratory equipment that the Pentagon never requested.

Through Mr. Gramm's work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, National Guard units in Texas this year are busy nTC renovating five armories and building two new ones -- work that the Pentagon doesn't want and says it doesn't need.

A sampling of the fine print of this year's spending legislation shows that the conservative Republican from College Station and other Senate crusaders for fiscal restraint are unlikely to let ideology get in the way when it comes to government spending for the folks back home.

Mr. Gramm, a longtime critic of deficit spending, defends his work as doing what is necessary to protect Texas interests until the White House and Congress can agree on binding constraints on the federal budget.

"What happens if the money is not spent in Texas?" Mr. Gramm said.

When Mr. Gramm last month introduced a controversial proposal to balance the federal budget by amending the Constitution, the ensuing debate kicked off another election season of easy-to-grasp labels: GOP fiscal responsibility vs. Democratic big spending.

But conservative advocates of the amendment likewise are prone to spending federal bucks to protect the interests of their political bases.

Buried in Congress' 13 appropriations bills this year are several grants and projects sponsored by pro-balanced budget senators.

* When the Army Corps of Engineers tried to close some civilian public works offices to save money, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., a balanced budget amendment sponsor, strenuously objected. The corps estimated it could save $112 million a year by shut ting down 17 offices that did little work.

* Stoneville, Miss., is destined to become the catfish capital of the world thanks to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., another balanced budget amendment sponsor. He has sponsored $2.2 million in agriculture appropriations to create a National Center for Warm Water Aquaculture, to study better ways of harvesting catfish.

* Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis., pushed for the most conservative of several versions of the balanced budget amendment. He also sponsored a $100,000 appropriation for research on barley malt, an important commodity for his state's breweries.

"It comes down to jobs," said aide Mary Crawford. And, as Crawford says, "One person's pork is another person's priority."

The balanced budget amendment, aside from giving the GOP a handy campaign issue, grew out of frustration with those failed efforts. A veteran of the budget wars, former Republican congressman Bill Frenzel of Minnesota said he has come to believe that only the electorate can change government's unthrifty ways.

"Congress has been rewarded for making deficits, rather than being punished," Mr. Frenzel said. "If you bring home a post office building or a military base or a highway interchange, that is thought to be good and you are re-elected.

"Congress has become, in the last 20 years, a collection of bellboys who carry baggage for the loudest of their local constituencies. But if the people of the United States get rid of a few spenders, what's left of them will get the word pretty quickly."

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