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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.

Likewise, the legislation provides $30 million for the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund, a project launched in 2009 to reduce forest fires on federal lands in key areas of the country. In 2010, the program received $10 million and launched 10 pilot projects to conduct forest thinning and controlled burns under the theory that “it is cheaper to modify the forest and do all that work before hand” than to respond to catastrophic fire events, said Eytan Krasilovsky of a forestry organization called the Forest Guild.

The bill also increases the budget of the Secret Service by $14 million to prepare for the 2012 presidential campaign. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said most of that money will be used to buy secure vehicles and related equipment to ferry presidential candidates around the country. The president and vice president travel with their own vehicles, but for other candidates, presumably mostly Republicans in 2012, the Secret Service stations equipment around the country and makes it available when candidates come through that region.

The CR also includes $624 million more for nuclear weapons programs, money that would only be spent if the Senate approves the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which President Barack Obama is pushing for but leading Senate Republicans want to put off until the new session.

The spending measure also boosts money for White House priorities such as encouraging the Securities and Exchange Commission to combat financial fraud as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. In the wake of the BP oil spill, it provides funds to expedite reforms in offshore drilling programs by the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Republicans complain that Democrats should not be using the continuing resolution to pick and choose winners.

A news release issued by Republicans on the Appropriations Committee before the House vote Wednesday said, “This CR will be a last ditch effort to avoid a government shutdown while continuing to fund many of the Democrats’ political priorities.”

The Republicans say that the budget calls for cuts to some programs in defense and the Census Bureau to pay for the Pell Grants and the implementation of the financial reform law. Instead, they argue that those cuts should be used to reduce the deficit.

Officials with Citizens Against Government Waste, a spending watchdog group, say they identified one earmark in the bill: $15 million for the International Fund for Ireland, which was established in 1986 to promote economic regeneration and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Congress has routinely approved the earmark since the 1980s, according to Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste. It does not have a named sponsor in the bill.

Paige said the earmark was first sponsored by former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, an Irish-American Democrat from Massachusetts who died in 1994. But she said there have been reports that the money is spent on such things as fashion shows.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the Irish fund appropriation is an example of funding that may have been initially made with good intentions but now deserves to die.

“That is such a ridiculous waste of money,” he said. Chaffetz said the fund is being discontinued in Ireland but added, “They will cash our check.”

He also lamented that the earmark sponsor has routinely been anonymous.

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