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Democrats assail GOP on pet projects

WASHINGTON -- Congress's traditional practice of diverting money to lawmakers' home-district projects has mushroomed since Republicans took control, House Democrats said yesterday.

The number of such projects for defense research, economic development, NASA, agriculture, education, and other areas has skyrocketed since 1995, when the GOP gained control of Congress, the Democrats said in a report.

Their criticism represents the continuation of an unusually public battle over the projects between the two parties. It follows a decision by House GOP leaders not to include funding for Democrats' projects in an enormous $138 billion measure for health, labor, and education programs because no Democrats supported the bill when it passed the House last summer.

The paper does not mention that Democrats still seek and win such projects for their districts in the 13 annual spending bills that Congress writes. Aside from the battle over the health-labor-education bill, the rule of thumb is that the minority party -- the Democrats these days -- receive about 40 percent of the projects.

The report contrasts the growth in the projects, called "earmarks," under GOP leadership with the same criticism that Republicans leveled against Democrats when they held the majority.

"Republicans have not only indulged in spending substantial sums for special favor earmarks but have actually taken the practice to levels that their Democratic predecessors could never have imagined," the report says.

Using the derogatory term for the projects, the paper is called "The GOP's Rapid Conversion From Pork Busters to Pork Boosters."

Republican aides did not deny that the numbers of earmarks have grown.

"The earmarks are up, but the requests are up exponentially" from lawmakers seeking such projects, said John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee's majority Republicans.

The report says:

* In the defense spending bill for fiscal 1995 -- the last time spending bills in the House were written by a Democratic majority -- there were 219 earmarks totaling $1.1 billion for military research and development. The defense bill for the 2004 federal budget year, which began Oct. 1 -- written by Republicans -- had 1,299 such projects worth $4.4 billion.

* NASA earmarks grew from two worth $48 million in 1995, to 104 worth $254 million in the bill covering fiscal 2003, which ended Sept. 30.

* Earmarks for the Commerce, State and Justice departments grew from 45 worth $104 million in 1995, to 966 worth $1.04 billion in 2003.

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