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Earmarks Ahoy in New Spending Bill

Republican Dave Hobson is used to getting what he wants. He is a long-term member of the House Appropriations Committee. This year he got four earmarks totaling 1.3 million dollars in a health and education spending bill. I have been here a long time and I work at and I am an appropriator and that's what appropriators do," Hobson said. Earmarks are funds added on to bills to pay for programs and projects in lawmaker's districts. Hobson's earmarks included $4,000 to pay for health telecommunications technology. Ya know I try to do what I call underwrite all of these things. Is it a good thing to do, is it cost effective to do, does it make a difference in the quality of life and if we think that than we promote it," the congressman said. Another long-time appropriator Republican Ralph Regula got nine earmarks at $2.3 million dollars, including 150 thousand dollars for a bullying prevention program. The appetite for earmarks is not a partisan issue. Third term Democrat Tim Ryan got 10 in this bill. Most earmarks, I say 99.9% are fine, they are legitmate, Ryan said. Some government watchdogs have their own word for earmarks; they call them pork. They say the system too often favors the most powerful members of Congress. Steve Ellis is with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group based in Washington DC. We are not making these funding decisions on the basis of project merit. It is about political muscle. The people that have the most power are the ones who are getting the most earmarks. So you could have the greatest project in the country but if you happen to be located in a freshman Republican district you are likely to not get very much money, he said. Hobson said it is not just about seniority. When I first came I was on the Highway committee and I got a couple of earmarks in there that my Governor who is now a Senator, senior Senator from Ohio, asked me to do and I got them and I was a freshman. Hobson said he works with both Democrats and Republicans to get what he wants. He said when it comes to earmarks legislators know best. I think I know better what the needs and my constituents know better what their needs are in my district then some bureaucrat that is sitting here that has never been to the state of Ohio and has no idea what people's district are in Ohio and does some broad program that the money ends up being spent with some contractor somewhere that we never see. Earlier this year President Bush asked Congress to cut earmarks in half. House Democrats also eeked out a compromise with Republicans to disclose earmarks in appropriations bill. New proposed legislation would take it a step further. It creates a bipartisan committee to evaluate the impact of more reforms. Ellis, who has lobbied hard for changes, favors a process based on merit. It is not that we don't think any museums, it is not that we don't labor activity should get any money or anything else like that. It is just that we want to make sure you are funding the most important and best thing that meet the federal needs,"Ellis said. The Ohio projects totaled about 13 million dollars. The entire spending bill contained more than a billion in earmarks. Overall the bill was some 10 billion dollars more than what the President had requested. Bush said it was too expensive and vetoed it. Republican Steven LaTourette voted to override the veto. He has a 200 thousand dollar earmark for Kent State University at stake. You can't just say because it is an earmark so it is bad, everything must be done on a case by case basis," he said. In this case, it didn't work out for Ohio. The override failed. Legislators hope to patch together a new package before they adjourn in December. Time is running out to get appropriations approved. Next year three top senior Republicans from Ohio retire from Congress. If they don't secure the money now, it may be awhile before the state gets this kind of federal help again.