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War bill also includes funding for spinach, peanuts, shellfish

March 24, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The war spending bill passed by the House on Friday is officially called the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. But Republicans would say that it could also be called the Spinach Growers, Peanut Storage and Dairy Farmers Rescue Act.

President Bush asked for $103 billion for expenses related to fighting the war on terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He got that and more: not only a series of deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, but also $21 billion in additional spending, much of it unrelated to war.

Republicans were quick to accuse the Democrats of buying some of the 218 votes that the bill received, enough to pass by just six votes.

"The sweeteners in this bill are political bribery," said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), a prisoner of war in Vietnam who delivered an emotional speech to conclude the Republican side of the debate.

Several of the sweeteners were agricultural, mostly to compensate for weather-related and other losses.

Spinach growers got $25 million because the fall E. coli scare depressed sales. The shrimp industry received $120 million for Hurricane Katrina losses. Federal support for peanut storage, due to expire after 2006, was extended one year at a cost of $74 million. Shellfish producers were compensated $5 million for losses from a disease, viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

"Spinach, shrimp, peanuts and shellfish?" said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "That's not a war funding bill, that's the salad bar at Denny's."

Democrats were largely content to let Republicans take their shots, although Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) came to the defense of a $50-million item to clean up asbestos at the U.S. Capitol's special power plant. Working conditions in the plant are deplorable, Obey said, and workers should not have to wait for improvements.

Democrats ignored reforms they pushed through in January, Republicans complained.

The House adopted rules requiring that appropriation "earmarks" for special purposes identify their authors. But when Republicans tried to object to the special-interest provisions in the war funding bill, they were told they should have lodged objections at the outset of the debate -- Thursday, in this case.

"By passing earmark reforms, Congress signaled that it was serious about restoring fiscal responsibility to the budget process," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. "It seems the commitment to reform was short-lived."

Also attached to the House bill is legislation raising the federal minimum wage and providing tax breaks for small businesses.

The Senate is following with a war funding bill that includes $18 billion in nonmilitary spending.

"Like the House version," Schatz said, "the Senate bill is packed with spending items unrelated to overseas military operations."

He singled out aid to sugar-beet and sugar-cane growers.

"The Senate has matched the House's insatiable appetite for pork while satisfying their sweet tooth."

joel.havemann@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Pork products

Here are some of the special interests that would benefit from the House-passed bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

*--* Item Amount (in millions) Flu protection $1,032 Wildfire management 500 Dairy farming 283 Low-income home energy assistance 200 Shrimp industry 120 Peanut storage 74 Capitol power plant asbestos abatement 50 Spinach growing 25 Shellfish producers 5

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Source: House Appropriations Committee

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