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The Hill's big appetite for pork

Targeted spending and tax breaks may hit a record this year, as the deficit surges.

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Call it an offer Americans probably can't refuse.

House lawmakers recently decided US taxpayers should send $500,000 to Montezuma, Ga., in a transportation bill. It's not to upgrade an interstate highway but to improve the sidewalk, lighting, and landscaping between Cherry and Hampton Streets.

Hey, it's only half a million dollars, but that is one small reason why the bill is now $19 billion bigger than the president's $256 billion request.

Then there's a new tax bill, launched when Congress wanted to fix a $5 billion-a-year export subsidy that turned out to be illegal under global trade rules. Now, measures tacked on outside the normal budget process have expanded the bill's girth to $170 billion in tax breaks:

• $519 million for makers of small jets.

• $8 million for makers of arrows. Yes, as in Robin Hood.

• $25 million for foreigners who gamble at US horse and dog races.

Of course, targeted spending and tax breaks are nothing new to a city where "all politics is local." But this year, the pork may hit a record even as the federal deficit surges to worrisome heights.

The trend is sparking concerns among fiscal-policy experts and outrage among some taxpayers.

The rising deficit, which some economists worry could push up interest rates in the economy, may actually be a reason for more pork, at least in the short term.

The bill with $170 billion in corporate tax breaks, for instance, is seen by Republican lawmakers as the "last train out of the station," a chance to give long-sought tax breaks to businesses - and create jobs - while it's still politically possible.

Fall elections may be another factor.

"The Republican leadership doesn't seem to be trying to control it," says Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute. "Because the Republicans have such a narrow hold on the House and Senate, the leadership may feel it needs the earmarks to get their votes."

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