WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are ignoring President Bush's call to cut spending for home-state projects, stuffing the year's first spending bills with $500,000 for swine manure research in Iowa, $5 million for a Massachusetts parking garage, and millions of dollars for hundreds of other items.
If anything, Congress could well exceed the $16 billion price tag such projects totaled in 2001. Still formidable federal surpluses, legislators' desire to bring home federal bacon and the age-old executive-legislative rivalry over the power of the purse all fuel a bipartisan demand for home-district spending.
Compounding Bush's problem is the Senate is now led by Democrats with little sympathy for the spending constraints he proposed to help finance his big tax cut. They are eager to draw contrasts between his tax reduction and their own priorities.
"We'll make our judgments, and he'll have to make his when the bills get to him," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a barely veiled challenge.
Spotlighting the early trend, the White House complained that a $59 billion transportation bill for 2002 that the House approved on June 26 contained $1.6 billion for more than 900 projects for lawmakers' districts -- $300 million and 300 projects above this year's totals for that bill.
Daniels' office also said the $74 billion agriculture bill the House is considering has $150 million in research projects Bush did not request.
"I don't think we're having too much success so far" in cutting the projects, White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels conceded in an interview last week.
Facing this early deluge, the administration has begun to play down Bush's proposed cuts in the projects.
"As a matter of priority, it falls third or fourth on the list," Daniels said.
He said keeping overall spending down, financing Bush priorities like education and defense, and eliminating bookkeeping gimmicks lawmakers use to squeeze in extra spending are all more important.
In February, the fledgling president's first budget called for $8.4 billion in cuts in such projects for 2002, leaving about $8 billion of that spending intact. That's out of a total federal budget of $2 trillion for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1.
"Washington's known for its pork," Bush said in April, using the derisive term for spending lawmakers win for their home districts. "This budget funds our needs without the fat."
But though Republicans embraced Bush's tax cut, few have endorsed his call to cut money for the folks back home.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., and others say they have not been asked by House GOP leaders to trim projects for lawmakers' districts. In fact, the leaders continue to routinely ask Young's committee to add funds for particular projects in swaps for lawmakers' votes, to shore up GOP incumbents from difficult districts and for themselves, Republican aides acknowledge.
"The fact that something is in a bill from a member of Congress doesn't mean it's bad," Young said, adding about Bush, "We're on the same team, but we're still separate branches of government."
Work on 2002 spending bills is in its early stages, but already the measures are flecked with items such as money for reducing the odor of swine manure, to be conducted at the National Swine Research Center in Ames, Iowa. The Fitchburg, Mass., garage is to help rail commuters in central Massachusetts reach Boston-area jobs.
"All of us have to represent our areas," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee, who has helped put money into legislation for Texas including research there on bees, goats, wool and pecans.
The bills also include $80 million to help San Francisco extend its Bay Area Rapid Transit train service to the airport; $2 million to begin planning for cleanup of the Illinois River, an effort supported by House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Illinois lawmakers; and $3 million to protect forest land at Hawaii's McCandless Ranch.
House Appropriations Committee aides say that through May 16, they received 18,898 requests -- evenly divided between the two parties -- for projects totaling $279.4 billion for the spending bills it is now writing for 2002. As the Senate Appropriations Committee begins writing its version of the bills, Byrd said last week that just one of its 13 subcommittees -- covering the Interior Department -- received 1,799 such requests.
Only a small percentage of those requests will make it into law. Even so, their sheer number illustrates the negligible impact Bush's proposal to cut such spending has had on Congress.
Further illustrating the trend toward growth, Daniels says this year's budget contains 6,454 projects not requested by President Clinton, who was in office when those bills became law. That's up from 3,476 in 2000 and 1,664 in 1997.