Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, probably set the tone Thursday for this week's debate on the record-breaking $20.7 billion energy and water spending bill for fiscal 1991.
Turning to Rules Committee colleagues who had been profusely thanking Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.) for including favorite projects in the bill drafted by the Appropriations subcommittee that Bevill chairs, Moakley said in mock disappointment, "I seem to be the only person here who doesn't have something in this bill."
In fact, there was something special in the legislation for Boston, parts of which Moakley represents: $10 million to help build Boston College's "National Center for the Advanced Study of Catalysis-Based Energy Science."
The bill is a good example of the hurdles faced by budget cutters in a year in which the White House appears to have lost control of the process and long-pent-up pressures seem to be boiling over in Congress to help regions, districts and constituencies.
The energy and water bill, scheduled to be the first appropriations measure to reach the House floor this year, was denounced last week as "impossibly high" by Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), ranking minority member of the Budget Committee. He complained that the fiscal 1991 bill is 12.7 percent above the current year's, and a half-billion dollars more expensive than the president proposed.
It includes everything from a $400,000 solar heating plant for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to money for flood control on Cow Pen Creek in DeSoto County, Miss. There is even something in this western-oriented measure for the New York area. A late amendment directs the Army Corps of Engineers to remove seven abandoned barges that are breaking up and emitting debris into the Passaic River.
After two years of not earmarking funds to specific universities or hospitals, this year's bill allocates $89.1 million to 13 such institutions, most in districts or states with influential representation on the House Appropriations Committee or House leadership. Other key House Appropriations subcommittees with legislation in the drafting stage reportedly have also lifted the lid on earmarking to universities.
The popular bill is perhaps the purest example of the double standard operating in the deficit debate. Polls reveal a public worried about the deficit. But appropriators say the same public is clamoring for federal help in building universities, preventing floods, dredging harbors and preserving jobs threatened by environmental laws.
The home-state pressure is evident in two coups scored in the appropriations bill by Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), a member of the subcommittee that drafted it.
In one case, Fazio persuaded colleagues to have the Department of Energy absorb an estimated $11 million in costs that had been passed on to northern California utilities -- and their customers -- as a result of salmon protection activities in the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam.
Several years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from the dam to aid spawning. That left less water to run through turbines to generate power, and power customers ended up paying for more expensive electricity purchased from other sources. Fazio's provision will spread the cost of salmon protection to all the nation's taxpayers instead of just customers of western public power.
The Sacramento congressman also inserted a provision that sources say will soften the economic impact of decommissioning the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Rancho Seco nuclear plant, ordered shut by a voter referendum last summer.
The bill allocates $3 million to a "demonstration project" to develop casks for storing and handling spent nuclear fuel. The money, if approved, will represent the first slice of about $8 million in federal contributions.
The appropriators, responding to intense lobbying by the Washington delegation, provided $134 million to save the "fast flux" nuclear laboratory in Richland, Wash., which Energy Secretary James D. Watkins wants to close. The House panel, asserting that the facility is working on technologies that could be useful in nuclear waste cleanup, was swayed by a petition from Washington state members, including House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D).
Just as such provisions win support in the West, new flood control, harbor and river projects garner backing in the flood-prone southern states adjoining the Mississippi, Arkansas and Red rivers. And construction money for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), the atom-smasher to be built near Dallas, wins over Texas and other states with an interest in high-energy physics.
Chairman Bevill's panel urged the Energy Department to expand its SSC program at the University of Alabama, in Bevill's home state.
Meanwhile, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y), a Rules Committee member from Rochester, thanked Bevill Thursday for including grants to the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. Then she voted to send the bill to the House floor.