Conservatives Oppose Pet Projects

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate conservatives and the Bush administration are taking aim at billions of dollars of non-war spending added to President Bush’s $100 billion funding request for Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition to money and equipment for overseas troops, there is $100 million for state and local law enforcement agencies in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul to provide security for next year’s presidential nominating conventions.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., won renewal of an income subsidy program for small-operation dairy farmers that promises to cost taxpayers $1.2 billion over the next five years.

And while the Senate bill has no money earmarked for spinach and peanut farmers – as there is in a House companion bill – sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley stand to get $24 million to cover crop losses from flooding two years ago.

But there’s a problem facing conservatives striving to knock out what the White House calls “excessive and extraneous” spending: Many Republicans support the extras.

Take $20 million obtained by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to combat Mormon crickets. The insects aren’t simply plaguing Nevada, but also the solidly Republican states of Idaho and Utah – whose delegations support the funding.

While conservatives such as Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., took to the floor Monday to question the funding for sugar beet growers, the provision has the support of Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican facing a potentially difficult re-election battle next year.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants to kill the $100 million for convention security. The money – for security costs due more than a year from now – has no place in a bill funding U.S. troop activities through the end of this September, he contends.

“Members will have to make a difficult choice between booze and balloons or body armor and bullets,” Coburn said.

Coburn has taken on spending add-ons before, only to run into a coalition of Democrats and old-school Republicans that invariable defeat his attempts.

What typically happens in such “emergency” spending bills is that people who have obtained items dear to their states vote as a pack to fend off attacks on pet provisions.

The defense funding bill, which arrived on the Senate floor Monday, contains about $20 billion in spending unrelated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While conservatives were quick to attack questionable items such as $3.5 million for guided tours of the U.S. Capitol or $3 million aimed at a sugar cane cooperative in Hawaii, most of the added money promises to have broad support.

The additional funding includes:

– $4.2 billion in disaster aid for farmers hurt by drought, floods and other disasters in recent years.

– $6.7 billion in additional federal efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, including housing aid, public infrastructure funding and aid to Gulf Coast fishermen.

– $3.1 billion to implement a 2005 round of military base closures, which helps local communities affected by military base closings paves the way for redeployment of 12,000 troops stationed in Germany and South Korea to domestic bases.

– $2 billion for national security efforts such as port security, explosives detection for airline baggage and rail and mass transit security grants.

– $747 million to ease a shortfall in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care to children from low-income families.

– $640 million in heating subsidies for the poor and elderly.

– $500 million to combat Western wildfires.

“Politicians have decided this is a good train to get on board,” Kyl said. “Because it’s got to move.”

Leahy’s amendment to extend income subsidies aimed at dairy farmers with small operations was in a class by itself. It represented a rewrite of the 2002 farm bill up for renewal this year.

The cost of Leahy’s provision is $31 million this year, but unlike other elements of the war funding bill, it is added to “baseline” funding for agriculture subsidies at a cost of $1.2 billion through 2012.

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