November 15, 2005
Regula axes local funding
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON - Rep. Ralph Regula, who has used his powerful position as an appropriator to steer millions of dollars in spending to his congressional district, is this year leaving lawmaker-initiated local projects out of the massive spending bill he shepherds through Congress to provide more funds for education, health care and energy assistance.
In past years, Regula and his counterparts in the Senate have reserved $1 billion for the local projects, which lawmakers pencil into spending legislation to benefit their constituents.
The amount set aside for earmarks has been part of a larger spending bill that totals more than $142 billion and provides federal aid to education, medical research, health care and job training programs.
Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, has directed millions of dollars to schools, universities, hospitals, clinics and other institutions and programs in his district since he became chairman of a key appropriations subcommittee five years ago.
“We don’t have the money” for earmarks, Regula said Monday night after a two-hour meeting with a select group of lawmakers who were tapped to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of the spending legislation. “We’re spending the money on programs.”
Critics of lawmaker-initiated projects, which they deride as pork, attack the so-called earmarks as a wasteful and political use of taxpayer dollars. Appropriators such as Regula have defended earmarks, saying lawmakers are at least as qualified as federal agencies to make local spending decisions.
But this year, the administration and Congress have sought to curb growth in domestic spending to offset billions of dollars in unanticipated federal costs resulting from Hurricane Katrina.
The compromise appropriations bill under consideration totals $142.5 billion, about $160 million less than last year’s spending measure.
The decision to dispense with earmarks this year came after Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of a Senate appropriations panel, proposed adding $2 billion in emergency funding to the legislation. Regula refused to go along with that plan, which critics say would be fiscally irresponsible.
“The House leadership would never agree to an emergency designation,” Regula said.
When Specter countered with a plan to use the $1 billion reserved for earmarks to increase funding for other programs in the bill, including home heating assistance for low-income families, Regula agreed, he said.
“Earmarks are gone,” said Regula, who is chairman of the House-Senate conference committee that expects to reach final agreement on the legislation within days. “That’s what’s tough for members. There’s things (projects) people would like that we can’t do.”
Regula said he had a list of local projects that would have benefited from earmarks he would have put in the legislation. He said he did not know what the total value of the spending would have been for his district.
As part of the proposed compromise with the Senate, Regula agreed the spending bill would include $100 million for the Global Fund, an international partnership that collects and distributes money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Earlier, Regula’s panel had cut the contribution to zero from $100 million last year.
Another appropriations panel has agreed to donate $450 million to the fund.
The combined $550 million, which still needs approval from the House and Senate, would top $435 million that the United States gave to the Global Fund last year.