There's always room for pet projects
U.S. Capitol Building
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KAI RYSSDAL: The federal government's 2008 fiscal year can be summed up in a mere 1,482 pages. The House passed the massive spending bill last night. The Senate is expected to do the same thing today. And the odds are the president is going to sign it. The bill funds 14 cabinet agencies and the war in Afghanistan. It's worth about $516 billion, and it has 9,000 congressional earmarks in it. From Washington, Jeremy Hobson has this holiday spending tale.
JEREMY HOBSON: 'Tis the week before Christmas in the Senate and House. And there are goodies for all right down to the mouse.
STEVE ELLIS: Some sugar plums for special interests and some members that they can take home and tell their constituents about.
That's Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. He's talking about the thousands of earmarks, or pet projects, in the giant spending bill. They include $500,000 for the streetscape improvement project in Bennington, Vt. Scott Murphy directs economic development there.
SCOTT MURPHY: You know, I wouldn't say that it's tremendously drastically needed but certainly it's another stepping stone going towards where we're going.
And then there's the $705,000 for brown tree snake management in Guam. Zoologist Gordon Rodda with the U.S. Geological Survey says the money will help prevent the snakes from migrating to Hawaii. They bite, he says, and would scare tourists. Plus:
GORDON RODDA: The snakes crawl on wires. And it shorts out the electrical systems.
ELLIS: A lot of earmarks are actually like that, where you look at it and you dig deep you can find some justification.
Once again, Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
ELLIS: But that is a perfect example of where we need to be trying to decide this on merit. Maybe the brown tree snake eradication should deserve millions more than it's getting, but it doesn't because it's going through the earmark process.
Meaning at the last minute, lawmakers swipe the national credit card for their favorite causes, leaving watchdogs little time to sort through it all. Otherwise, Ellis says plenty of these projects would get less money, or none at all.
In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.