That pork in the jobs bill

Now that the Senate Appropriations Committee is taking up its version of a jobs bill, it - and indeed the full Senate - should make every effort to avoid turning such a measure into just another ''pork barrel'' political project.

The reason for such care is self-evident, following allegations that the $4.9 billion jobs bill passed by the House last week was not without its share of federal money for congressional districts and regions of the United States having only minimal unemployment - or for projects that would not really put that many persons back to work.

Given the seriousness of the nation's unemployment - unchanged at 10.4 percent for February - lawmakers should ensure that the dollars for jobs programs actually go to those persons needing the funds, namely, the unemployed.

The House measure does target funds on high-unemployment areas, thanks to a last-minute amendment requiring that 75 percent of the discretionary spending in the bill apply to such areas. That means that some $1.8 billion - or more than a third of the total - will go to areas where joblessness is 9 percent or more.

Still, there are disturbing elements in the measure that suggest that ''politics as usual'' is still being played out in Washington. The bill, for example, provides $125 million for the Corps of Engineers' general water projects; the corps would also get $76 million for operation and maintenance projects. The bill also provides $203 million for various Mississippi River water control projects; $50 million for US Bureau of Reclamation construction programs; $21 million for bureau operation and maintenance programs; $30 million for bureau loan programs; another $40 million for TVA projects.

Such public works may, of course, be legitimate. But, as economists have pointed out, many water-related projects tend to provide additional work for persons already employed; they require a long time to get under way - in some cases, several years; and they usually occur in areas where unemployment is relatively low.

Because of considerations such as these House GOP lawmaker Silvio Conte argued that the bill had more than its share of ''butcher shop'' - i.e., pork barrel - provisions.

House lawmakers deserve credit for moving swiftly on the measure, which sailed through on a bipartisan 324-to-95 vote. In now taking up its own version, the Senate should make certain that what finally emerges for presidential signature aids the unemployed. This is hardly the time for an exercise in old-fashioned get-what-you-can-for-your-district politics.

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