From Hill With Love, A Platter of Bacon
Omnibus Bill Carries Projects for Region
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 17, 2003; Page B01
The mammoth federal spending bill approved last week by Congress pours hundreds of millions of dollars into projects sure to become Washington area landmarks some day, such as $177 million for the Census Bureau's new complex at Suitland, $60 million for Metrorail's extension of the Blue Line to Largo and $38 million for the Food and Drug Administration's long-promised campus at White Oak.
And then there is the rest of it.
Tucked within the $397.4 billion omnibus spending bill are $90,000 for a Vienna Little League baseball field, $2 million for a Beltsville lab for honey bees, $2 million for a firehouse restoration in the District and $300,000 for an old church in St Mary's.
All told, more than 120 measures and pet projects totaling more than $600 million for Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland and the District are stashed in the foot-high, 3,000-page legislation. Its final passage and transmittal to President Bush for his signature sparked an annual ritual among lawmakers to highlight the bacon and claim a share of credit for servicing constituents. The bill does not include military spending.
Far from being shy about steering federal tax dollars to home towns, most members take a bow.
In a press release, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) proudly cited money for, among other things, the Vienna ballpark and $500,000 in improvements to Goshen Dam and Lake Merriweather in Rockbridge County, "home to many weekend excursions by Northern Virginia Boy Scouts."
"Good things come to those who wait," Davis said. His spokesman, David Marin, justified the use of federal funds for Northern Virginia youth activities, saying: "He is a strong proponent of youth sports and extracurricular activities. He responds to what his constituents bring to his attention."
Yet, in private, congressional officials acknowledged that the bill, which was approved by both chambers Thursday, was produced four months late and, in the case of the House, mostly without hearings. That made it easier for powerful appropriators to lard the legislation.
"Sure, it's much more difficult to identify earmarks in a 32-pound bill than in a lot of individual bills," said one Republican. But then, he made clear, lawmakers are generally much more concerned about getting spending packed into the bill than carving taxpayer-funded fat out.
The amount of local aid was not unusual. Instead, the volume reflected that the omnibus budget contained, in one bite, dollars normally spread out in 11 bills over several months. Partisan wrangling delayed consideration of the budget past November's election, and Congress fell so far behind in its work that it rushed all the bills together.
Several major programs also were funded, of course. Significant items included a 4.1 percent pay raise for federal workers. Homeland security measures also were funded, including $1.5 million for Alexandria to pay the cost of federal terrorism trials.
But the list of earmarked goodies, otherwise known as pork, goes on: $600,000 for an Arlington boathouse, $157,000 for the Laurel Community Center and $225,000 for streetscape improvements in Wheaton.
"This legislation helps meet the day-to-day needs of Marylanders and the long-range needs of the state," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior Senate Appropriations Committee member, who singled out $7 million for Montgomery County's criminal justice computer systems, $60 million for the Blue Line and $20 million for MARC service expansion and a statewide bus program linking less-populated communities.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), head of a House Appropriations subcommittee, identified nearly $50 million for a dozen Northern Virginia transportation improvements, including $26.5 million for mass transit in the Dulles corridor and $7.6 million for the 14th Street Bridge.
He touted $5 million to establish a homeland security training center at George Washington University's Loudoun County campus. In conjunction with George Mason and Shenandoah universities, the center will train firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement workers for handling major emergencies.
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who scored a broader triumph in the bill by securing $1.5 billion for national election reform that he championed, also wielded his clout as an appropriator by shepherding three dozen projects.
He especially cited $1.35 million to help La Plata recover from last year's tornado damage, $37.6 million to complete the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, for which Bush initially proposed only $5.5 million, and the Beltsville Honey Bee Laboratory, which the president proposed closing.
Hoyer, along with House appropriator Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), noted tightening budgets. "If President Bush's tax cuts go through," Moran said, "this may be our last year in doing well for transportation, housing and community services."