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The Hill's big appetite for pork

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One man's pork is another's worthy cause. There are passionate backers, for example, for a nine-line change in the tax code that could save a 1929 Art Deco hotel in Sioux City, Iowa, from a wrecker's ball.

But between the tax bill and other measures, Congress has "porked out at record levels," according to a new study by Citizens Against Government Waste. Some 10,656 projects were stuffed into the 13 appropriations bills for the 2004 fiscal year at a cost of $22.9 billion.

At the same time, lawmakers added more than 3,250 earmarks into the pending transportation bill. It ballooned the cost of that bill in the Senate to $318 billion, $62 billion over the White House request. President Bush threatens a veto.

It's a far cry from the days when President Reagan railed against the 152 earmarks in the 1987 transportation bill, to no avail. Presidents Eisenhower and Carter also vetoed bills because of member earmarks, but they too were outvoted by Congress.

Public interest groups who plunge into the minutiae of spending or tax bills to find earmarks say it's often difficult to recognize when a lawmaker has written a special provision into a bill. Special projects are those that bypass normal budgetary processes: They haven't been requested by the president or an authorizing committee or vetted in congressional hearings. They usually serve only a local or special interest. Many appear in the text of a bill just hours before lawmakers vote.

"We often don't find them until well after the bill becomes a law," says Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The corporate tax bill grew, he says, as backers added earmarks in an effort to break a Democratic logjam. "You do need sweeteners on a bill to make it move," Mr. Ashdown says, but this one "has greased a mass of critical palms"

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