Dems Accused of Using Troops as 'Bargaining Chip' for Pork

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - As the House prepares to debate legislation Thursday that would authorize more funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - and set a September 2008 end-date for funding - conservative analysts condemned what they said was excessive "pork spending" in the bill.

The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veteran's Health, and Iraq Accountability Act would allocate $103 billion in additional funding for military operations, and to care for wounded troops. But it also contains $21 billion in so-called "pork spending."

Several appropriations are under fire, including:

-- $50 million for "asbestos abatement and other improvements" in the U.S. Capitol.
-- $74 million for "storage, handling, and other associated costs for the 2007 crop of peanuts."
-- $120 million to fund the shrimp industry's recovery from Hurricane Katrina
-- $284 million for payments to dairy farmers
-- $4.3 billion in increased Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief for areas affected by hurricanes

The bill allocates smaller amounts, such as $5.27 million for bird flu research and $165,200 for the widow of a late congressman.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said in a statement Wednesday that Democrats are "trying to pressure reluctant members into voting for this by taking on billions of dollars in pork barrel projects. The money they want to spend on spinach subsidies and peanut storage would be better spent on body armor and Humvees."

Brian Riedl, a federal budgetary affairs analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service that Congress is "effectively using the troops as a bargaining chip for their own pork" and called the domestic projects "extremely wasteful."

"Congress is telling the president, you cannot fund body armor for our troops until you agree to give us $16 million for extra office space in the House of Representatives," Riedl said. The $16 million allocation for "House office buildings" appeared in an earlier version of the bill but has since been removed.

Riedl said much of the pork has been added to the bill "to buy votes of wavering members" who otherwise wouldn't have supported additional war funding. He added that the pork spending will likely only grow as the bill is debated, because "Congress will probably add more pork to ensure passage."

Ellis Brachman, a spokesman for bill sponsor Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), told Cybercast News Service Wednesday that he wasn't aware of any pork projects in the bill. "I don't know of any pork added to it," he said, referring further questions to the House Appropriations Committee.

Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, told Cybercast News Service that the bill includes non-military projects, because it is intended to fund "emergency situations facing the country."

"All that this bill does is it funds things the Republicans neglected to take care of when they were in charge," Brost said. "The agriculture assistance has been needed for a few years now. The money for veterans' health care, defense health care is absolutely needed."

But Republicans on the committee believe the bill named for troops and the war on Iraq should stick to that focus and not deviate to domestic spending projects.

"This legislation ought to focus on our troops. It ought to focus on providing those in harm's way with the resources they need to complete their mission successfully," California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

For its part, the White House has said President Bush will veto the appropriations bill unless it is changed. "Because of the excessive and extraneous non-emergency spending it contains," the administration said in a statement, "if this legislation were presented to the President, he would veto the bill."

"Congress should reject this legislation," the White House statement continued, "and promptly send the President a responsible bill that provides the funding and flexibility our troops need, without holding funding for the troops hostage to unrelated spending."

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