Pet project blocked at finish line

Golf course funds deleted, sponsor finds out later

November 20, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- This week's desperate dash by congressional leaders to finish a $391 billion budget compromise ensured that many pet projects dear to key lawmakers materialized in the bill late in the game.

At least one dematerialized, as well.

On Thursday, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a senior Democrat on the House committee that sets spending priorities, proudly proclaimed that he had secured $100,000 for a private golf course in Prince George's County designed for disabled patrons. Late yesterday afternoon, a red-faced Hoyer announced that he had just found out the money wasn't there.

In a statement, the Southern Maryland congressman blamed the loss of the money on "some members of the U.S. Senate [who] raised last-minute objections."

The House passed the four-inch thick legislation Thursday night and the Senate approved it yesterday. Because of the frenzied pace at the end of the process, many members had little knowledge of the fine print in the bill when they were voting on it, congressional aides said. Conservative critics attacked the bill as ridden with needless projects handed out like Halloween treats to ensure lawmakers' support.

For Maryland, the bill also included $2.5 million for private land to add to Civil War battlefield parks, $1.8 million to restore a bumper car pavilion, carousel and ballroom at a classic amusement park, and $1 million for a Johns Hopkins University center to study bio-terrorism.

Money was included for a St. Louis wax museum, a Tennessee zoo, and, according to the Boston Globe, $400,000 for a Springfield, Mass., memorial to Dr. Seuss.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, cast aside the niceties of political protocol on Thursday by criticizing the supposed grant for the golf course. Usually, politicians are loath to criticize projects that bring money to their own state, and Ehrlich's statement that it "sounds suspicious" raised hackles among many of his colleagues.

Through a spokeswoman, Hoyer defended the grant Thursday as an initiative with bipartisan support that will encourage those with physical or developmental disabilities to play golf.

Late yesterday afternoon, also through a spokeswoman, Hoyer said he had learned there was no such money in the bill.

"Despite strong support for the project in the House [negotiating] committee," a statement released by Hoyer's office said, "some members of the U.S. Senate raised last-minute objections and the provision was deleted."

It added, "Due to the fact that the House of Representatives voted on the bill in an unusually expedited procedure, we were not made aware of the fact that the project was not included in the final bill."

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