October 31, 2003
Regula refuses to ‘earmark’ projects coveted by Dems
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula defended himself Thursday against accusations that he is engaging in “systematic bribery” by denying Democrats the targeted projects that some deride as pork.
Regula, chairman of a key appropriations subcommittee, has made it clear that lawmakers who opposed a spending bill produced by his panel will be barred from incorporating — or “earmarking” — projects for their districts in the legislation.
“I just historically don’t give earmarks to people who don’t support the legislation,” said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, who began chairing the subcommittee in 2001.
The partisan squabble erupted as influential appropriators, including Regula, moved to open the $138 billion legislation to include benefits for their own districts, such as local building projects and other targeted funding. The overall bill provides federal aid for education, medical programs and job training.
When the bill passed the House by a 215-208 margin in July, not one Democrat voted for it.
At the time, Democrats criticized the bill for shortchanging education. They blamed President Bush’s tax cut for the shortfall.
Now Democrats say it is unfair that only Republicans can take advantage of $900 million or more reserved for coveted lawmaker-initiated projects.
“If you vote your conscience and support more funding for education and health, you will get stiffed,” Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., complained in a letter to Regula. “This is nothing more than systematic bribery with public funds to enforce the Robin Hood in reverse policies of your party.”
Obey, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, has enjoyed a cordial relationship with Regula in the past.
In a reply to Obey on Thursday, Regula rejected the lawmaker’s demand to shift funds away from pet GOP projects to beef up education spending. But Regula said he would accomplish that objective in another fashion — by tapping about $170 million that had been set aside for Democratic earmarks and using that money to pad the bill’s education provisions.
Regula scoffed at Obey’s claim that Democrats’ opposition to the bill was based on “heartfelt matters of conscience.”
Democrats supported other appropriations bills, Regula said.
“What troubles me is that your leadership reportedly urged all members on your side of the aisle to oppose the bill,” Regula said in the letter to Obey.
While Democratic House members won’t be allowed to put projects in the bill, Regula said Democratic senators will be able to add earmarks in the Senate version of the legislation.
Democrats have slammed the bill for providing $8 billion less for education than Congress authorized in the No Child Left Behind law championed by Bush two years ago.
Regula retorted that the bill nevertheless increases education funding by $2.2 billion, or 4.5 percent more than last year.
Obey, a self-described foe of pork, criticized Republicans for presiding over a dramatic increase in earmarked projects since the GOP won control of the House in 1994.
“Significant earmarks did not begin to appear in the (bill) until after 1995,” he said. Obey claimed earmarks have grown from $33 million in 1996 to $1 billion last year.
Regula agreed that Obey has opposed earmarks. At the same time, Regula said Obey, as the subcommittee’s top Democrat, has overseen the distribution of projects to other Democrats on the panel.
David E. Williams, vice president for policy at the anti-pork Citizens Against Government Waste, assailed Obey for being “part of the problem” since earmarks have gone to his congressional district and state. But he did not let Regula off the hook.
“The Republicans pretty much have admitted through Regula that they are the party of pork,” he said. “There’s absolutely no difference between them and the Democrats when it comes to feeding at the trough.”