Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Just Don’t Call Them Earmarks

File Photo
Helicopter pilot Rick Harmon of KG Livestock rounds up a group of wild horses during a gathering in 2005 in Eureka, Nev. The continuing resolution approved by the House on Wednesday night includes $12 million to help thousands of wild horses and burros.

Operating under very tight budget constraints, Congress will keep federal spending flat next year — except for the wild horses of the West, who get an extra $12 million.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) unveiled a bill Tuesday to fund the government through the rest of the year that is in the spirit of Washington’s new austerity, saying the measure “prohibits funding for Congressional earmarks.”

While that is technically true, the bill does include money specifically aimed at addressing Members’ pet projects, from uranium mining to protecting presidential candidates to rounding up wild horses.

The continuing resolution, which the House approved Wednesday night, does not increase overall spending for the fiscal year. But it shifts money around, boosting funds for programs favored by the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats.

Obey took to the floor Wednesday to argue, in essence, that there is no way to simply extend last year’s spending levels, because things change over time.

“I’m sure we’ll hear lots of talk about the number of changes in this bill. The number of hard choices we had to make in this package to try to keep Uncle Sam from becoming Uncle Scrooge this holiday season,” Obey said. “The committee has done its dead level best, within the constraints under which we’re operating, to make some modest adjustments to salvage some investments which over the long haul just might create more jobs than tax breaks for millionaires.”

Some of the measures are major, such as $5.7 billion more for Pell education grants for lower-income families and $550 million for the Race to the Top, the competitive grants awarded by the U.S. Education Department to school districts.

But there is also a bevy of more obscure items that are getting a boost in the bill.

For example, the legislation allows the Bureau of Land Management to “establish up to 10-year contracts with ranchers that care for excess wild horses and burros,” and increases the bureau’s budget by just under $12 million “to maintain the thousands of wild horses and burros in its care.”

A Democratic staffer pointed out that the bureau can’t simply let the horses it is caring for die.

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