Peoria Journal Star

September 29, 2006

Spending bill likely to pass this week
Region to reap benefits from defense measure

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congress is expected to give final approval this week to a $448 billion defense spending bill that includes millions designated to help central Illinois projects and firms, including some in Peoria and Springfield.

The funding is included in a House-Senate compromise, which the Senate is expected to approve before Congress adjourns for the campaign season. The House approved the measure late Tuesday in a 394-22 vote.

The funding would be provided in a Pentagon spending bill for federal fiscal year 2007, which begins Sunday.

The agreement includes $22.8 million that would benefit Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc, according to Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who requested the funding.

Of that $22.8 million, $9.75 million would be for the purchase of construction equipment for the Navy, $9.4 million is for the purchase of scrapers for the Army Reserve and $3.6 million is for high-speed diesel combustible engine research, according to LaHood's staff.

A House version of the funding bill, passed last June, included $75.2 million for the Caterpillar programs, but the Senate bill didn't provide any funding, according to LaHood's office. Caterpillar received $26 million in earmarks requested by LaHood in the current fiscal year.

Other earmarks requested by LaHood and included in the House-Senate agreement are:

- $3.25 million for Firefly Energy, an offshoot of Caterpillar, which is developing a longer-lasting and lighter-weight battery that it hopes to sell to the Army. The fledgling firm had received $5 million earlier in the House bill but nothing in the Senate bill. At LaHood's request, Firefly received $2.5 million this year.

- $2 million for the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria for a secure computer system. The same amount was provided by both the House and Senate.

- $1 million for PeoriaNext for a robotics program, which was the same amount included in the House bill. Nothing was included in the Senate bill.

- $1.6 million for Memorial Health System in Springfield for computerized intravenous infusion pumps to help prevent medication errors. The House bill had included $2.5 million, but no funds were initially included by the Senate.

The House-Senate compromise also would provide $30 million for operating and maintaining C-9C aircraft at Scott Air Force Base and preparing for the C-40 aircraft that are scheduled to be delivered to Scott beginning in 2007, according to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Durbin requested the funding along with Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Jerry Costello, D-Belleville.

The agreement also includes $3 million for the Army to develop a rocket- propelled grenade protection system. Decatur Electronics, located in Decatur, would compete for the contract, Durbin said.

With the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year just days away, the defense bill would be the first of 11 funding bills to be approved by Congress. The bill contains a provision to keep federal agencies open through Nov. 17 at their current levels of funding.

While Durbin and LaHood have repeatedly defended the use of earmarks as a way to benefit their constituents, critics say the earmarking process directs funds for political purposes rather than national priorities.

"Lawmakers are ready to split town with their bags stuffed with projects that do not reflect smart spending for a nation at war," complained Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that monitors federal spending.

LaHood said recently that "people in central Illinois like earmarks because they know that it benefits programs and helps people."

More than 2,000 earmarks are estimated to be in the defense funding bill, but they are difficult to find unless the sponsors choose to disclose them, said Ellis, who is still reviewing the 314-page conference agreement.

Although the House recently passed new rules that would require disclosure of sponsors of certain earmarks, Ellis noted that no sponsors were named in the defense bill because of "loopholes" in the rule. The new rule exempts earmarks that go to federal entities and those inserted for the first time during the House-Senate conference.

Most earmarks designate funding for federal agencies or programs, such as the Army's research and development program, that would ultimately benefit local initiatives or firms, he said.

While there appear to be more earmarks than previous years, the amounts are smaller, Ellis said.

"It appears they are spreading the dollars farther and thinner with the elections coming up," he said.

 

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202)737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.