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Pet Projects Usually Involve Pork, Says Spending Foe Ed Royce : Politics: With his 'Porkbuster' colleagues, the Fullerton congressman has incurred the wrath of the powerful by attacking unrequested appropriations.

August 07, 1995|ADRIANNE APPEL | STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — If there's one thing greenhorn lawmakers learn quickly in Washington, it's not to step on the toes--or pet projects--of the members of the prestigious House Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers except Rep. Ed Royce, that is.

Instead of warming up to committee members, the Fullerton Republican has spent much of his time attacking many committee-approved projects as unnecessary, unauthorized or excessive.

Royce is co-chair of the Congressional Porkbusters Coalition, and his major preoccupation of the past three years has been to cut spending.

Since Royce met with House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and appropriations committee chair Bob Livingston (R-La.), relations between Royce and his colleagues have been better, but for a while, he was eating his lunch by himself every day.

"We have to expect that people will take it personally and will be angry," Royce said.

When Royce and Porkbusters co-chair Rep. David Minge (D-Minn.) suggested on the floor of the House that $10.4 million should not be approved for a second gymnasium at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, in the district of appropriations committee member Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the 10-term veteran was furious. He called the proposal "a cynical attempt . . . to kill what is a legitimate program in an effort to gain some cheap, short-lived notoriety for being alleged budget cutters."

Royce kept his cool but did not back down while he was being criticized.

"We should not be spending money on unrequested projects. So join with the Porkbusters," he said.

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But one by one, other members of the appropriations committee rose to attack Royce and his proposals.

"Porkbusters have again identified the wrong man, at the wrong time, the wrong place," said Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (D-Pa.). The amendment failed 270 to 158, but many other Porkbuster initiatives have passed.

So far this year, they have succeeded in cutting $144 million in unauthorized pet projects, including a $5.1-million proposal to build a third 18-hole golf course at Andrews Air Force Base.

Even in the face of stinging opposition, Royce continues to fight to curtail unnecessary spending.

"Those barbs don't mean much to me given the importance of our objectives," said Royce, whose ultimate goal is to shift power away from the committee so that individual representatives would have more to say in the budgetary process.

Three Porkbusters' initiatives help with this. Earlier this year, it won permission from the House Rules Committee to challenge any unauthorized projects on the House floor. Also in effect is a requirement that all unauthorized projects be listed at the end of a bill, so they can be spotted easily and reviewed.

Another, known as the "lock box" provision, which was just passed by the House but needs Senate support, mandates that savings from appropriations bills not be funneled into other projects as is now done, but toward deficit reduction. "Had this passed last year, we would have saved $659 million," Royce says.

All members of the House Appropriations Committee voted against the lock box amendment.

"He [Royce] certainly runs the risk that some members will remember bitterly what he's been involved with," Minge said.

The ax could fall on Royce's proposal for the federal government to give El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to the county. Once in county hands, it could be sold and the profits put toward the county's debt.

Royce is confident the proposal is protected by existing base closure law, which allows for such transfers. His bill would merely expedite the process, aide John Doherty said.

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So shielded are the appropriation committee members from the rest of Congress that lawmakers not on the committee often cannot receive copies of the spending bills until the day of the vote.

Unless, of course, there is a mole.

Rep. Mark W. Neumann (R-Wis.), a serious deficit hawk, was personally appointed to the Appropriations Committee by Gingrich to make good on his promise to give freshman congressmen a piece of congressional action.

He quickly fell in with the Porkbusters, giving copies of appropriations bills to Royce and Minge and offering fat-trimming amendments in committee. All the amendments failed dramatically, 1 vote in favor, 55 against.

The Porkbusters would scour the hefty spending bills, some of which were headed for a vote within two days. Pork projects would be identified, researched if possible, and amendments drawn up to wipe them out.

One month into the session, it was clear that Neumann had worn out his welcome when Gingrich came to call and threatened to throw him off the committee.

"Newt encouraged us at first, but then he had the problem of getting enough votes to get the bills passed," Doherty said.

Several months later, Gingrich, with the chairmen of the Appropriations Committee and Rules Committee in tow, called on Royce. It was after Porkbusters had fingered a favorite Gingrich project: a proposal to spend $14 million to place an Army museum, the 49th of its kind, in Arlington, Va.

Gingrich's project failed, and again the Speaker backed off. Royce agreed to tone down the negative comments he had been aiming at certain projects and to praise appropriation committee members when they acted frugally.

"It was a time when nobody was talking to us," Doherty said, because Gingrich had bad-mouthed the Porkbusters.

After the House returns in September from its one-month recess, the Porkbusters plan to train their sights on getting their amendments approved by the Senate and the President. Royce and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will meet with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Minge will meet with President Clinton.

Said Royce: "We're trying to send a message that just because you represent a district doesn't mean you have to bring home the bacon."

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