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Column: $50M for Iowa rain forest?

I didn’t catch the talk show host’s reply because I rarely stop switching the dial to listen to such shows. But I couldn’t help but think how much out of touch with political reality the caller must be.

The odds of President Bush vetoing the $820 billion omnibus spending bill Congress passed Jan. 22 were about as good as those for this Congress renaming a Washington street in honor of Bill Clinton. That is, somewhere between none and less than none. (President Bush signed the bill earlier today.)

What the caller may not have realized is that this was the administration’s bill, and the 7,931 special projects like the indoor rain forest were added to attract votes. (The count comes from an article in The Washington Post, which estimated the projects’ total cost at $10.7 billion.)

The House passed the omnibus bill Dec. 8, but the Senate delayed consideration until it returned from the holidays. After a symbolic vote against cloture Jan. 20, enough Democrats switched sides to pass the measure, 65-28, Jan. 22.

Of course, what might be pork in some eyes – $1.8 million for exotic pet disease research in California, $200,000 for recreation improvements in the city of North Pole, Alaska, etc., could be porcelain in others.

The bill has cotton industry-supported projects – $1 million for research on a chemical tracer that will help identify the country of origin of textile and apparel products being transshipped through third countries, for one – that could appear in future articles in the Post or New York Times.

Cotton producers know such a device could be important because of existing and potential free trade agreements that Chinese textile manufacturers could use to ship even more products into the United States through other countries.

But all senators like John McCain of Arizona and the national media see are rising deficits, and they don’t stop long enough to consider that technology for tracing apparel products could save what’s left of the U.S. textile industry.

It doesn’t help that Congress rolled the spending plans for agriculture and six other appropriations measures into an omnibus spending bill because it couldn’t pass them individually before the new fiscal year began Oct. 1. And the fact the indoor rain forest and other goodies were slipped in during closed conference committee sessions also raises suspicions about more of the same old pork barrel politics.

Cotton producers would like to know which Iowa senator or congressman added the rain forest to the bill. Whether Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley was involved or not, he had to know about it as a conference member. I wonder how much lower payment limits may have to be reduced to pay for an Iowa rain forest?

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