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For business, a goody basket in US budget

Natural-resource and defense industries stand to benefit most fromadd-ons to spending bills.

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As Washington engages in a high-minded debate over budgetary priorities such as education and foreign aid, far less talked about are an estimated $12 billion worth of special-interest "earmarks" tucked into the fiscal 2000 spending bills.

The nearly $600 billion discretionary budget includes a myriad of add-ons - pet projects of lawmakers that benefit districts, businesses, or industries but were not requested by government departments. Ranging from money for a new US Navy helicopter carrier in Mississippi to a research grant in Georgia on the pungency of Vidalia onions, they vividly illustrate a growing trend in recent years of lawmakers slipping funds for favorite projects into the big annual appropriations bills.

Republicans and Democrats alike are to blame, say antiwaste groups. Such frills are ironic, they say, given how Congress and the White House are struggling to advance their budget priorities without spending a penny of the surplus generated by Social Security taxes.

The Senate Nov. 2 followed the House in passing a sweeping 1 percent across-the-board federal spending cut to save $4 billion. President Clinton has vowed to veto the measure. A final budget deal is expected by Nov. 11.

The number of earmarks jumped sharply from 1,596 in the fiscal 1997 budget to a record 2,838 in fiscal 1999, according to the Washington watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). "There will be more pork than usual [this year]," says CAGW spokesman Jim Campi.

Meanwhile, the spending bills also include dozens of environmental riders that translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits for key extractive and land-use industries by easing restrictions on their environmental impact.

'Sneak attack' on environment?

Last year, lawmakers pushed through 40 such environmental riders by attaching them to must-pass appropriations bills. This year, the bills so far contain 58 riders whose beneficiaries would include the mining, oil and gas, timber, and ranching industries.


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