One reason the $388 billion spending measure that Congress rushed to approve by Thanksgiving is 3,320 pages long is that lawmakers have stuffed it with pork-barrel prizes. The bill has 11,772 pet projects costing a total of $15.8 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group. Congressional leaders of both parties have always allowed appropriations bills to be larded with stuff to ensure votes for the final measure. But in the past decade, when Congress has been dominated by the supposedly fiscally conservative G.O.P., the amount of pork in appropriations bills has more than tripled. "It's obscene. We have taken it to a whole new level," says Arizona Representative Jeff Flake, a leader of the House's conservative Republican Study Committee. "We frankly look worse than the Democrats did in their heyday." Says Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense: "At a time of record deficits," when most agencies are seeing their budgets cut, "we have to set national priorities." Not surprisingly, the lawmakers who brought home the bacon consider the tax dollars well spent.
$500,000 for a NORDIC SKI CENTER in Alaska. Inserted by Ted Stevens, the state's senior Senator and the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman, who insists that the cash is needed to upgrade a training facility and ski trail used by U.S. Olympic athletes.
$70,000 for the PAPER INDUSTRY INTERNATIONAL HALL OF FAME in Appleton, Wis., which recognizes executives who have made "pre-eminent contributions to the paper industry." As it happens, the area has a large paper industry, so Representative Mark Green was eager to honor its heroes.
$4.989 million to renovate BATHHOUSES in Hot Springs, Ark. The therapeutic springs have attracted devotees like Babe Ruth and Al Capone over the years. Representative Mike Ross wants the money to restore the bathhouses for tourists.
$100,000 for the PUNXSUTAWNEY WEATHER MUSEUM in Punxsutawney, Pa. The site is "an easy target" because of its groundhog fame, says Paul Feenstra, an aide to Representative John Peterson, who got the cash. "But [it] helps kids learn about weather science and history."