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Our Opinion:Earmarks hijacking

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Earmarks hijacking

The egregious use of earmarks to obtain federal funding for pet projects has become so widespread that many elected officials act as if they are obligated to grab as many dollars as they can to curry favor with constituents. What amounts to fiscal plunder is made even worse when earmarks are attached to vital funding bills, making it difficult to vote them down for fear of losing appropriations for essential programs.

That's the case with an emergency appropriations bill recently sent by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. House. The purpose of the bill, as requested by President Bush, was to make more funding available for the war effort in Iraq, to provide more hurricane relief to the Gulf Coast and to set aside a few million dollars for the government's preparation for a flu pandemic.

But many senators, knowing this bill had a high priority because of the mounting expenses of the war and hurricane recovery, seized the opportunity to add on pet projects worth another $14 billion. Bush initially said he would veto the bill if it came to his desk with appropriations for more than he requested. When the Senate defied his spending limit, he said he would wait to see what the House-Senate conference version looks like before deciding what to do.

The emergency appropriations are vital, and to vote against them -- or to veto the whole package -- might be construed as a lack of support for troops in Iraq or government relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. But others, seeing the exploding national deficit, would applaud a tough stand on the earmark scam.

That's not to say the extras added to the bill aren't important or don't deserve consideration. But if they do, they should be considered on their own, not as part of a hijacking of the essential spending the president has requested.

If the bill gets to the president's desk with $14 billion more than needed for the original intent of the funding, President Bush should do exactly what he said he would do: Veto it.