NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Special Interest Projects That Miraculously Appear

October 13, 1998

Insiders on Capitol Hill call them "virgin births" -- items that seem to suddenly appear from nowhere in spending bills that were not included in administration budget requests nor in bills approved in the House and Senate. They show up when House and Senate conferees meet to iron out differences between their versions of a bill.

Analysts say that at least 30 such items have recently appeared in the fine print of the $250 billion defense spending legislation. But they show up virtually everywhere. About 100 of them are quietly being inserted by members, often at the behest of lobbyists, as Congress and the administration rush to pass legislation this week to keep the federal government from shutting down.

  • These special provisions are typically written in language so obscure no one can understand them, or they can be in amounts so small no one cares -- such as $250,000 for research into the defense uses of "Stay Alert," a caffeinated chewing gum, added by a congressman in whose district the gum factory is located.
  • But frequently the amounts are considerable -- like the $385 million in extra export credits for Russia to help American poultry producers.
  • Or a $10 million item for tobacco export promotions.
  • In this year's defense spending bill, millions of dollars more were added late in the game to help makers of electric locks, pulverized coal, automotive transmission systems and a vacuum-pressure system claimed to prevent oil spills.

The late additions are less subject to public scrutiny and debate. Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, says the last minute additions are even worse than the ones that make their way into earlier versions of a bill "in the sense that nobody can do anything about them."

Source: Charles R. Babcock, "Pentagon Budget's Stealth Spending," Washington Post, October 13, 1998.


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