WASHINGTON — Now that President Clinton has unsheathed his new line-item veto knife, Congress is grilling up a plateful of "pork" for him to use it on.
While most attention has focused on the veto of three items in the tax and budget bills, when Congress returns in September, it will be sending Mr. Clinton a fresh batch of appropriations, or spending, bills for approval.
As always, members of Congress will have quietly tacked on measures designed to help their home districts and states - bypassing a discussion of priorities.
"I expect the most glaring examples [of pork] to come up in the appropriations bills," said Clinton earlier this week, foreshadowing more line-item vetoes.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, one of the Senate's self-appointed "pork-busters," is preparing his own list of projects that should get closer scrutiny.
Already, he says, the Senate has passed 10 funding measures that include almost $10 billion in "wasteful, unnecessary, low priority, pork-barrel projects. This is an appalling waste of taxpayer dollars..."
Pork works like this: Powerful members of Congress attach pet projects - ones that they know might not pass as standalone bills - to larger spending bills. While those projects may be legitimate to certain groups, they may be difficult to sell politically to the entire Senate. Without the line-item veto, the president has often been forced to accept these projects or veto the entire bill.
Of course, one person's pork is another's crucial project. Senator McCain puts the new NSSN attack submarine high on his list of pork. But the Navy wants another of the $2.6 billion U-boats, in part to keep open the Connecticut shipyard that builds nuclear subs. It considers having two shipyards capable of building submarines important to preserving necessary skills and to keeping costs down. Navy officials say the costs of this sub will be "considerably less" than previous Seawolf subs.
Among the measures McCain considers pork, which in some cases show great creativity, are the following:
The second helping. Driven by different priorities, Congress sometimes gives the administration more money than it has asked for or even whole programs it doesn't want. Examples: the $200 million for C-130J aircraft, which the Air Force would just as soon turn down; the extra $100 million Congress added to highway spending in the Appalachian region.
Just for you. Lawmakers frequently appropriate money under generic headings, then earmark it for specific projects, tying the administration's hands in how the funds are spent. "Earmarking funds for special-interest projects is the most obvious form of pork-barrel spending," McCain says. Of $440 million in discretionary grants for buses and bus facilities, almost all is earmarked for specific projects in 35 states.
Micromanagement. In a new type of earmarking, specific funds are allocated to hire personnel at specific locations. The Agriculture Appropriations Bill, for example, earmarks $250,000 for an Agricultural Research Service hydrologist to work on Florida Everglades restoration and $500,000 for scientists to research Africanized "killer" bees in Texas.
In the Treasury-Postal Service bill is a provision prohibiting the Internal Revenue Service from reorganizing field-support efforts in Aberdeen, S.D., until a toll-free IRS help line reaches an 80 percent service level.
Another bill provides "the most specific earmark I have ever seen," McCain says. It calls for "a magnetometer and not less than one qualified guard" be posted at each entrance to the federal facility at 625 Silver St. S.W., Albuquerque, N.M.
College bowl. Congress is fond of creating study centers. It wants to spend $15 million for the Office of Women in Development and $15 million for the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help.
"I do not question the value of some of these programs," McCain says. "I do question whether they require or deserve funding from the US Treasury or cannot be competed among contending institutions and organizations."