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Democrats race clock, try to save programs

Defeat of earmarks threatens projects, 900 jobs in Mass.

Scott Brown was the only member of the Massachusetts delegation who did not file any earmark requests. Scott Brown was the only member of the Massachusetts delegation who did not file any earmark requests.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 18, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Two large defense contracts that would produce up to 900 jobs in Lynn and Pittsfield are in jeopardy after the Senate eliminated a major spending bill loaded with earmarks this week, sending Massachusetts’ congressional delegation scrambling to get the funding added to another budget bill before the end of their lame-duck session, which is expected to come next week.

The programs — a backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and 10 new Navy coastal combat ships — were casualties of the ideological war over the special spending appropriations, known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress into budgets. The Senate’s decision to kill the major appropriation bill Thursday was the result of pressure from some Republicans, who considered the measure and its earmarks wasteful, even those proposed by GOP senators.

In all, the $1.1 trillion bill had 6,706 earmarks worth $8.3 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. The move to shelve it showed the political impact of the recent midterm election, in which candidates affiliated with the Tea Party movement were among those railing against earmarks and deficits.

It also shows how the economic pain of eliminating earmarks will be felt in communities that had counted on jobs created by the spending.

The backup jet engine, which would be built by General Electric and would result in 400 jobs in Lynn, has been criticized by taxpayer watchdogs for several years as a waste of defense dollars. The Pentagon has said it needs only one engine for the new fighter.

The combat ships would be built by a consortium including General Dynamics, which said it would add 500 jobs to an electronics plant in Pittsfield if the project is approved. The Pentagon has backed the move to increase the order of new ships from 10 to 20.

Funding for the jet engine will run out Dec. 23, and GE officials have been desperately trying to get $450 million authorized in a stopgap budget bill. Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, lobbied yesterday to get about $1 billion for the combat ships restored in the new legislation.

The Senate’s action also means that more than $200 million in smaller special appropriations, including a $400,000 renovation to the Paul Revere House in Boston and $8 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate will not be funded, along with dozens of other projects throughout the Bay State.

Senator Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, was the only member of the state’s delegation who did not file any earmark requests. He opposed the budget bill that the Senate scuttled Thursday, although he has supported the GE backup jet engine. “It is outrageous and inappropriate to jam a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill full of thousands of earmarks through a lame-duck Congress with almost no time to debate,’’ Brown said.

Brown’s stance set off a round of finger-pointing within the Massachusetts delegation. Representative Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat who may challenge Brown for reelection in 2012, said Brown’s position undercut efforts to create jobs in Massachusetts.

Capuano filed a wide array of earmark requests, including the $400,000 for renovations at the Paul Revere House in the North End and $3.8 million for research of ALS, a disease for which no cure has been discovered.

“I want him to go to the Paul Revere House tomorrow and help them make ends meet,’’ Capuano said of Brown. “I want him to go to any hospital in the Commonwealth that has a kid or adult with ALS. I want him to look them in the eye and tell them that research to solve Lou Gehrig’s disease is not important.’’

Brown spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responded: “Scott Brown is opposed to earmarks and government overspending. Senator Brown believes we should work through the normal authorization process when it comes to funding projects.’’

Kerry strongly defended earmarks and decried opposition from Republicans to the special spending measures. Without naming Brown specifically, he said they foiled a “banner year delivering for Massachusetts because I worked so hard, and because of my seniority.’’

“It’s a lost opportunity for Massachusetts,’’ Kerry said in a statement issued by his office. “Mayors come to me for help. Every year I fight for federal funding, and I’m proud of every penny I manage to bring home.’’

The backup engine for the Joint Strike Fighter has been disputed for years. Congress and the Defense Department initially hoped to spur competition by creating two versions of the same engine. But in 2006, the Pentagon concluded the dual investment was not worth it, expressing a preference for a model created by Pratt & Whitney.

Still, Congress has continued funding the alternate GE engine over Pentagon objections. The funding was included in several bills this year, none of which gained approval from both the House and Senate.

Nina Zannieri, executive director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, said she would continue trying to raise funds elsewhere, including through private donations, to help convert an abutting 1835 property to an education and visitor center.

“I’m disappointed of course. We thought it was a good project,’’ she said. “The Paul Revere House is a national treasure. It’s something the federal government ought to be supporting.’’

One of the biggest Massachusetts earmarks was an $8 million request submitted by Representative Edward J. Markey that would go toward the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The facility named for the late senator is intended to open in Boston next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

The institute has received $38.3 million through federal earmarks, and it has raised about $50 million in private donations, with has a goal of raising $125 million.

“We’ve been caught up in the earmark maelstrom,’’ said Peter Meade, the president of the institute. “It certainly would have been better for us if we had gotten that money. But the building will be built and we’ll continue to raise money.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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