When the 101st Congress adjourned after a prolonged and bitter budget battle with the White House, many lawmakers found when they went home to campaign for reelection that their constituents were a lot less outraged over billions of dollars in higher gasoline taxes and increased Medicare costs than they were about a $500,000 item tucked away in an agriculture spending bill.
It wasn't the amount of the appropriation -- trivial in a $1.2 trillion budget -- that upset voters. It was what it was being spent on -- to help the small town of Strasburg, N.D., develop the birthplace of bandleader Lawrence Welk into a tourist attraction.
For many voters, the project seemed to symbolize the profligacy of Congress and the federal government in the face of budget deficits that annually run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Now, two months later, a Democratic lawmaker from Kansas, Rep. Jim Slattery, is trying to channel the acute political embarrassment felt by his colleagues over the Lawrence Welk house and other publicized examples of pork barrel spending into a small victory over wasteful government spending.
Slattery, who is ending his service on the House Budget Committee this year, is trying to round up support for a measure to rescind federal grants to about a dozen projects similar to the Lawrence Welk home. Though he hasn't settled on his list yet, Slattery is confident he can find plenty of wasteful projects that escaped the attention of lawmakers as they considered huge and complex appropriations measures.
"We need to send a signal that the old ways are no longer justified," said Slattery. "Members are getting sick and tired of explaining these things and being blindsided by these appropriations sweeteners we learn about only after they pass the House and Senate."
Among the candidates for Slattery's pork-buster list is the $3.6 million spent on a renovated rail yard in Scranton, Pa. The railroad museum project, called Steamtown, is the beneficiary of hometown Republican Rep. Joseph M. McDade's senior position on the House Appropriations Committee.
"I'm going to package a whole bunch of them and try to have a vote to terminate them," said Slattery.