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Specter Mulls Labor-HHS Without Earmarks

Indeed, eliminating earmarks from Labor-HHS likely would adversely impact some of the Democrats’ highest priorities since the bulk of targeted spending provisions in the bill go to community centers, hospitals, schools and job-training programs.

To get rid of earmarks in the bill, Specter would have to have the cooperation of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), who serves as ranking member for both the House Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies and is expected to become full committee chairman should Democrats take the House.

Though Obey presided over an earmark-free Labor-HHS bill as chairman of the subcommittee in 1994, he is not known as an anti-earmark crusader. However, in an October interview with The New York Times, he derided the Republicans’ use of earmarks as “internal bribery in order to get Members to vote for a piece of legislation they wouldn’t ordinarily give two minutes to.”

Despite his ruminations on eliminating earmarks, even Specter appeared a bit ambivalent about making the decision, saying that while he’s always been concerned about earmark abuse, he believes they do fund many beneficial projects, from hospital grants to university and community services.

“Earmarks are misunderstood,” he said. “There’s such a popular impression that they are inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, earmarks in this year’s Labor-HHS spending bill appear safe for now. Specter has not said he would want to eliminate earmarks already in this year’s bill but is looking to the future.

The current House bill contains 1,811 earmarks for various projects ranging from $3 million for a Florida autism research center to $50,000 for a Canton, Ohio, early-childhood-teacher training program. The Senate bill contains 1,173 earmarks, according to Specter’s staff. Both versions total about $500 million in total earmarks, sources said. Neither chamber has passed its version of the bill, and the measure likely will be folded into an omnibus spending bill when Congress returns next month for a lame-duck session.

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