Where GOP sees 'pork,' Clinton sees meaty project

March 30, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's indignation over the GOP charge that his $16.3 billion job-creation package is larded with golf courses, fish atlases, arts ventures and other wasteful projects is both justified and unjustified.

The president says the stimulus package would boost the still-struggling economy by spending billions to extend unemployment benefits, create summer jobs for young people, build highways and spur community development projects.

The Republicans denounce the spending plan as political "pork" disguised as a jobs package, and they have cited plenty of examples.

There is little agreement on what constitutes a wasteful project. A federally funded beachfront parking garage might smell of pork to a Midwestern Republican, but to a coastal Democratic mayor it is welcome economic development.

Certainly, there are some odd-sounding projects in the Clinton stimulus legislation, which has been passed by the House and is being stalled in the Senate by Republicans and conservative Democrats trying to delay half the bill's spending until tax increases and spending cuts are enacted.

But some of the Republican charges are wide of the mark or, strangely, are aimed at programs that Republicans introduced or backed funding for.

Take the Republican assertion that the study of religions in Sicily is part of the $197 million earmarked in the stimulus package for research programs at the National Science Foundation.

There was such a program. It was conducted by the National Science Foundation. But it took place last year, at a cost of $60,000, and was authorized under the Bush administration. It was an anthropological study of how Protestants and Pentecostalists interact with a majority Catholic community. The purpose was to trace the "dynamic" of the ebb and flow of the influence of various religions.

The project ended Jan. 31, and a final report has been filed, according to Michael Fluharty, spokesman for the National Science Foundation. "How they [the Republicans] thought it applied to the president's economic stimulus package is kind of confusing to us," he said. "It wasn't at all in this stimulus program."

The stimulus package does contain $197 million for the foundation for a variety of programs involving computer and information science, engineering and biological studies. The Republicans simply chose the wrong target in the religious study.

That might seem to support Mr. Clinton's contention at a news conference last week that "you will read these bills in vain and not find those [pork barrel] projects."

But what about the $3.2 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service to, among other things, draw up two fish atlases -- which show where fish are -- and study the large-river populations of the sickle fin chub?

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to spend $100,000 for the fish atlases and $50,000 for the study of the sickle fin chub.

"Aquatic pork -- pig fish, if you will," Rep. David Dreier, a Californian Republican, said on the House floor March 18. He argued that fish atlases, though they might be a good ecological initiative, should not be part of an emergency jobs-creation program.

Officials at the Interior Department say the atlases are needed to update 20-year-old maps showing the distribution of fish to help decide which fish are threatened. The study of the sickle fin chub will be undertaken to determine whether the federal government should join Montana in recognizing it as a threatened species.

The Republicans were also correct in citing a $1.4 million appropriation for the National Park Service to pay for the "drawing of 28 significant structures and engineering achievements."

But Duncan Morrow, a spokesman for the service, said the drawings, for the Historic American Building Service and the Historic Engineering Record, are part of the effort to maintain an accurate, historical record of the nation's important buildings and structures. The program was authorized by the Historic Sites Act of 1935 and has been funded annually since, except during World War II, by Republican and Democratic administrations.

"It never has been attacked as pork. It has always received funding support," said Roland Bowers, associate director for cultural resources with the park service.

This year's funding will be used to pay 200 to 220 architectural and engineering students and graduates to spend their summer breaks adding to the 49,000 drawings, 148,000 photographs and 88,000 written histories of major structures at the Library of Congress.

Also on the Republican hit list is the $23 million for the Environmental Protection Administration's "green programs," which the Republicans said, again correctly, are aimed at persuading large corporations to convert to more energy-efficient equipment.

At the EPA, the program, which was introduced during the Bush administration, is regarded as one of the most successful in cutting down energy use and, therefore, air pollution.

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