WASHINGTON — The Senate has quietly tucked hundreds of millions of dollars to fund parochial needs into a $60 billion supplemental spending measure ostensibly aimed at aiding victims of Hurricane Sandy, with new items ranging from aid for fisheries in Alaska to new cars for the FBI.
Although much of the spending — like $2 million for the Smithsonian to repair roofs and other buildings damaged during the storm — is directly linked to Sandy, huge parts of the bill would spend money on previous natural disasters and projects that at best have anything to do with emergency needs at all, critics say.
For instance, the supplemental includes more than $8 million in money for cars, furniture and office equipment for the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies — all of which the federal government says were damaged during Sandy.
But the spending doesn’t stop there or in funding to assist New Jersey, New York, and other states and local governments in recovering from the devastation.
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich successfully included $150 million in spending for fisheries in Alaska, New England, and the Gulf of Mexico that would assist communities reliant on the fishing industry.
“The failure of Chinook returns in 2010, 2011 and 2012 had a devastating impact on commercial and subsistence fisheries in Alaska,” Begich said in a statement. “These much-needed funds will help make communities whole and hopefully help fund research on factors affecting Chinook returns.”
Begich also included an additional $56.8 million in spending to help clean up debris from the 2011 tsunami that crippled Japan.
Other projects are even more tangentially connected. For instance, Taxpayers for Common Sense notes that the Senate included $336 million for an Amtrak program that has been in the planning stages for years.
Conservatives point to a host of other questionable provisions, including $13 billion in mitigation funding for future disasters, not directed to Sandy victims for emergency relief; $110 million in Safe Water Drinking Act Grants; $4 million for the Kennedy Space Center; $58 million in funding for private forestland owners to replace damaged trees; and $62 million for repairs to NOAA facilities and aircraft and weather forecasting equipment, among others.
The measure has already drawn strong opposition from Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, two influential conservative organizations that have denounced the measure for being loaded down with what they view as pork projects.
In a release sent out Monday, the Club warned lawmakers they would be scoring their votes, arguing that “when a natural disaster occurs, there is a textbook response by Congress — they cobble together an overpriced bill that isn't paid for, there's no accountability or oversight, and it's filled with pork. This proposal is no different.”
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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