A minor bill making a single federal appropriation ballooned 8,700 percent into a $60 million pork barrel full of back-home booty for powerful lawmakers before the House finally scuttled it.
"This is a disgusting piece of legislation," Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa., said Thursday as he began the attack that ended in the House voting 256-131 against even debating the bulging package.Rep. Thomas Coleman, R-Mo., called the bill "the perfect model of how Congress is a pork farm. There are so many little piglets in this bill it probably sets the Guinness World Book record about how a bill grew in conference."
The bill began life in the House earlier this year as a simple proposition: authorizing the Department of Education to provide $750,000 to the Taft Institute, which uses public and private money to run summer programs for high school civics studies teachers.
Then the fattening process began.
Added by the Senate were $15.2 million in authorizations for federal grants to a library in the District of Columbia, the Vermont Council of Higher Education, Voorhees College in South Carolina and the University of Mississippi.
At least two of the add-ons pointed in the direction of two senior members of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which handled the bill: Robert Stafford, R-Vt., and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.
As often occurs in these situations, some insurance was added: the Mississippi money. Sen. John Stennis and Rep. Jamie Whitten, both D-Miss., chair the appropriations committees that would have to free up the funds for the grants.
"That's the way you get the money in the appropriations process," said Walker.
Because of the Senate amendments, the bill had to go to a joint conference committee, which upped the ante by authorizing another $45.15 million in grants to universities and other educational facilities.
Walker and his allies said it was not coincidental that seven of the 12 grants tacked on in conference were headed for institutions located in states represented by conferees.
One of the conference leaders, Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., snagged three of them worth $6.15 million. The head Senate conferee, Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., got the single biggest hunk, $10 million for the Massachusetts Corporation for Education Technology.
Rep. Claude Pepper, D-Fla., chairs the House Rules Committee, which sent the bill to the floor Thursday with a rule that prohibited Walker & Co. from lodging and easily winning challenges to the germaneness of the add-ons.