GOP revolution looking like business as usual Pork-barreling goes on, very much as bipartisan as ever

January 14, 1996|By Steve Goldstein

WASHINGTON -- Tucked away in the 1996 federal transportation spending bill is a gift for the good citizens of Oregon: $15 million to reduce the debt of the Port of Portland shipyard.

No such budget request came from the Clinton administration or the House of Representatives. The item was added by Republican Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and its transportation subcommittee.

Mr. Hatfield argued that debt relief was needed to offset the loss of business when Alaskan oil was shipped directly abroad, bypassing Portland.

"I view it," said Mr. Hatfield, "as an issue of national security."

Others view it as a classic example of pork-barrel politics.

Even a cursory examination of the 1996 appropriations bills reveals a cornucopia of public works goodies, corporate subsidies, tax breaks and other giveaways designed to enhance the standing of members -- Democrats and Republicans -- at home.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

In 1994, Rep. Newt Gingrich said in the "Contract with America": "In two years, the public will have a record to look at, and they will know whether Republicans really were different when they took control of the people's House for the first time in 40 years, or if they slipped easily into business as usual."

The advent of a GOP majority has brought the trimming of some pork programs. But one year into the Republican revolution, the record shows that the incentives to deliver pork -- in various forms -- remain irresistible.

In 1987, the federal highway bill had 152 pure pork projects costing $1.3 billion; in 1992, 480 projects costing $5.4 billion, according to "Adventures in Porkland" by Brian Kelly. From 1970 to 1987, the number of pet projects inserted by lawmakers into the defense budget climbed from 82 to 807, while line-item "adjustments" made by the Appropriations Committee went from to 3,422. Academic pork went from almost nothing a decade ago to $1 billion a year.

"Pork is still being served," said Stephen Moore of the libertarian Cato Institute. "But when you're cutting appropriations bills, the size of the pig is smaller. But this is still a political town."

"My conclusion," said David Evans of Business Executives for National Security, a nonpartisan think tank, "is that it's business as usual."

Though House conservatives set out to dismantle the Energy RTC Department for its excess bureaucracy, the GOP leadership sent an energy appropriations bill to President Clinton that included a choice water project for Kansas, home of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, as well as generous funding for the Sandia and Los Alamos weapons-testing laboratories in New Mexico, the home state of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici.

"My greatest disappointment" was the conclusion of Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and self-styled pork-buster.

"Am I disappointed and embarrassed by Republicans doing this? Hell, yes," said Mr. McCain. "And am I more angry at Republicans? Yes. It hurts [the GOP's credibility] enormously."

Among the gifts to constituents in various appropriations bills this year are:

* The B-2 bomber and Seawolf submarine. After each chamber had rejected one of these items, House and Senate negotiators approved $493 million for additional B-2 bombers -- a down payment on 20 planes estimated to cost $36 billion -- and $700 million for a third Seawolf submarine that will eventually cost $2.4 billion.

* A $40 million appropriation for developing advanced light-water reactor designs, even though no new nuclear reactor has been ordered and built in this country for 22 years. Funds are provided to corporations such as General Electric, Westinghouse and ASEA Brown Boveri for assistance in design and in applying for reactor licenses.

* A $1 million appropriation for "outreach for socially disadvantaged farmers." An Agriculture Committee staffer said the money was to teach "beginning minority farmers how to farm."

* An additional $15 million to provide Pentagon support to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics, on top of $14.4 million awarded last year in the defense bill for unspecified services. The money will not be refunded to taxpayers even if the Olympics, as expected, turn a profit for the organizing committee.

* An increase to $110 million -- from $85 million -- for the Agriculture Department's Market Promotion Program, which pays U.S. companies to publicize their food products overseas. Ernest and Julio Gallo wines got $2.55 million last year. In fiscal 1993-1994, Pillsbury baking products got $1.75 million, Jim Beam distillers $713,000 and Campbell soups $1.1 million. McDonald's got nearly $500,000 in 1991 to promote Chicken McNuggets.

* A $10.4 million appropriation to build a physical fitness center at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.

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