Congress approves Bush spending plan

Posted 11:05 a.m. March 2

by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

President Bush signed a mammoth 3,000 page $397.4 billion appropriations bill last week, making it the largest appropriations bill ever. The bill contains spending for national defense, homeland security, domestic issues and a number of items that were added to benefit individual member’s districts.

Appropriation bills usually take effect at the beginning of a new fiscal year, which would have been last October, but Republicans and Democrats were unable to come to an agreement on many issues which delayed the process. With a Republican majority in both branches of Congress and Republican control of the White House, the large bill passed by overriding the objections of Democrats with more Republican votes.

The big winners in the budget included national defense, homeland security, space exploration and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Farmers, ranchers and students in poor school districts also made out big. To make room for some of the new spending, the budgets for the departments of Treasury and Commerce were cut. Bush has said he will seek additional funding for the Pentagon soon to pay for military buildup in the potential war with Iraq.

A number of Democrats have argued that the budget does not put enough funding in homeland security, education, and other domestic spending programs. They also argue that the new budget hurts the environment. The new budget outlines funding for “pre-drilling” programs in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and another clearing the way for more logging on federal land.

Although the White House was a big winner, the bill worked out to be much higher than they had originally requested. A major piece of legislation backed by the White House was also blocked from the final bill. The Total Information Awareness program was designed to monitor Internet e-mail and commercial databases as a way to track terrorists. Worried that many Americans would see this as an infringement on their civil rights, leaders from both parties expressed their dismay at the program which did not make it into the final bill.

As with most other appropriations bills in the past, this one was packed with funding for miscellaneous programs in individual member districts.

The bill includes $202,500 to build the National Peanut Festival Agriculture Arena in Dothan, Ala., at the request of Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, secured $90,000 to create a bilingual audio tour for the cowgirl museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., questioned why the government makes these kind of funding decisions.

“It’s tough to find what’s right about this bill,” Flake told reporters.

Other miscellaneous funding requests include $250,000 for beaver management in North Carolina, $450,000 to promote soccer through the U.S. Soccer Foundation, $50,000 to study shiitake mushrooms in Booneville, Ark., $650,000 for grasshopper and cricket control in Utah, and $300,000 more for the same purpose in Nevada. The bill also gives the University of California-Davis $250,000 to perfect its wine research, and Mississippi will get $350,000 for sweet potato research and $500,000 for catfish health.

“I feel that it is not necessary for the country’s national well being, but I believe it is a way for representatives to stay in power by keeping their constituents happy,” said George Washington University sophomore Richard Pugh on the miscellaneous spending incorporated in the bill. He said he believes the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Central Connecticut State University sophomore Kelly Osbourne had a similar response after learning that Congress allocated money for sweet potato research.

“That’s a little silly in my opinion, especially with the budget crisis going on, but if Congress really believes that sweet potato research is essentially beneficial to the country, then I suppose there’s nothing I can really do about it,” she told U-WIRE.

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