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


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.

* An additional $15 million for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project, or HAARP. The University of Alaska is exploring the means of drawing energy from the aurora borealis, thanks to the patronage since 1990 of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Carving out pork from the federal government's 13 annual spending bills is a subjective exercise. One member's pork is another's essential public works project.

So Mr. McCain and some like-minded lawmakers have developed criteria to determine what they believe is pork.

To avoid the pork label, an item must be authorized, be within budget limits and not show up suddenly during the House-Senate conference on the legislation. If the item is designated for a specific location or institution, such as a university ("earmarked"), or violates the normal competitive bidding process, Mr. McCain and the others consider it pork.

Congressional "earmarks" are funds slipped into appropriations bills by members of Congress for pet projects.

The legislative process allows for such golden moments. After House and Senate versions of an appropriations bill have been passed, the conference committee -- composed of members from each chamber -- may, in its report, add new budget items as it prepares the compromise version.

When budget items are added in conference, single items cannot be excised, leaving a lawmaker with the unappetizing choice of voting against the entire appropriations bill or swallowing hard and voting for pork.

Another old pork-barreling trick is to take a large project and divide it among subcontractors all over the country, spreading the benefits around and enticing many members to vote for it.

"If you took a map with 435 congressional districts and stuck a pin in all those with subcontractors on [the] B-2 bomber," said Mr. McCain, "you'd cover at least half of the nation."

If a budget item doesn't meet the criteria, Mr. McCain and his like-minded colleagues try to force a recorded vote, which entails debate on the item. Experience has shown that the pork-barrelers want their projects to slip in through the anonymity of a voice vote.

"What happens when I say I want a recorded vote? They sometimes back off," said Mr. McCain. "They don't want to debate."

Some believe that when members slash pork they are really making room for other pork. For instance, Congress can cut spending here and there, yet turn around and deliver a tax cut -- a different kind of pork. Tax breaks, exemptions and corporate welfare are the newest forms of pork.

New pork products include tax deductions, relief from royalty payments in mining operations, marketing stipends or research-and-development grants. Because it carries the aroma of "economic incentives," pork is ever more likely to assume these forms, say congressional staffers, and often can translate into billions rather than millions of dollars.

The huge balanced-budget package includes items that have irked pork-busters and would:

* Make it easier for corporations to move manufacturing plants overseas and keep the profits in offshore tax havens.

* Give timber companies a big break on capital-gains taxes.

* Help large banks, including Citicorp, by making it easier for the consumer to buy securities backed by credit-card debt.

The pork culture in Congress may die out with the influx of less career-minded politicians, Mr. McCain said, but it's likely to be a slow and painful process.

"It's much easier around here to go along to get along," Mr. McCain said of the freshman and sophomore members.

"It's like the old description of sin," he said. "First you condemn it, then you condone it, then you embrace it."

Steve Goldstein is a reporter in the Knight-Ridder News Service's Washington bureau.

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