Included in the financial services and general government appropriations bill that passed the House last week are several earmarks designed to give a boost to residents of Washington, D.C., with many requested by Members who represent districts outside the region.
The appropriations bill typically includes money to fund some District government costs, most notably the city’s courts. Most of the earmarks attached to the bill are designed to help local charities, foundations and other programs that Members view as important, either locally or on a national level.
But one earmark, requested by Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), stirred up controversy from Members and watchdog groups.
Two Lewis-backed earmarks were included in the measure, with one providing $500,000 to make improvements at the Congressional Cemetery. The other gives $500,000 to Barracks Row Main Street Inc., to enhance the Eastern Market Metro plaza and an adjacent park on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced an amendment on the House floor against the second earmark, noting that the 2006 appropriations bill included $750,000 for the same plaza.
Flake’s amendment failed.
The earmark also earned the criticism of the watchdog group Americans for Prosperity, who argued that Lewis and his wife, who live a few blocks away from the stop, could benefit from the earmark. “It would certainly appear that a half-million-dollar neighborhood beautification earmark would positively affect the value of a house just four short blocks away,” said Tim Phillips, president of the group.
But Jim Specht, Lewis’ deputy chief of staff, said the money would go to help improve an area “used every day by thousands of people of diverse economic, social and cultural backgrounds.”
And Lewis is by no means the only Member of Congress to live and own property in the neighborhood.
The plaza the funds seek to improve is currently a vacant lot owned by the federal government, Specht said.
“Lewis believes this is an excellent investment of federal dollars. It is a ludicrous idea to think he would support a project that will benefit thousands of people just to improve his property value,” Specht said. “He never considered that and flatly rejects the suggestion.”
Other area earmarks included in the bill were less controversial, targeted to helping child- related or education-based charity projects.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) both requested funds to renovate Southeastern University and provide scholarships for students enrolled in the Excel Institute’s Automotive Workforce Development Training Program.
“I know there’s a crossover on some of these requests,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Lundberg. “The appropriators probably see it as a two-for-one.”
Either way, both Members have reasons for seeking to fund the projects, aides said. For his part, Hoyer views Southeastern and the Excel Institute as education options not only for District residents but also for his own constituents, Lundberg said.
“One size does not fit all when it comes to education. It’s important to offer alternatives,” she said.
Knollenberg, as a former chairman of now-defunct Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, is familiar with the city’s needs and saw the two projects as important to the area, a spokesman said.
“He has a long-standing history with working with the District budget, and these are two projects and institutions that he’s worked with for a long time,” said spokesman Trent Wisecup.
(By the way, $250,000 went to fund Southeastern and $250,000 went to the Excel Institute.)
On other fronts, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) managed to get a $50,000 earmark for Everybody Wins!, a nonprofit group that pairs D.C. students with reading partners.
“It’s a great program, and they struggle every year to raise the money to keep it going,” said LaHood, has been a mentor with Everybody Wins! for 13 years. “It’s a program that relies primarily on volunteers, but they do have administrative costs.”
Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), also a former head of the District of Columbia Subcommittee, obtained a $100,000 earmark to help Bright Beginnings Inc. build a child care center in Ward 8, which has the largest concentration of poverty in the city.
“Anyone who knows Washington knows the need in Ward 8,” said Walsh spokesman Dan Gage.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) garnered earmarks for two projects — $150,000 for S.T.E.E.E.D., a local after-school youth program, and $81,000 for the Eastgate Hope VI housing project in Southeast. Fattah is an advocate for affordable housing and saw Eastgate as a worthy project, he said.
Local Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) obtained a $231,000 earmark for the Earth Conservation Corps, which provides hands-on job training to disadvantaged young people from the region.
The ECC reintroduced the bald eagle to the Anacostia River and is now helping with river revitalization.
“They’ve done some really good stuff,” said Moran spokesman Austin Durrer.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) obtained a $500,000 earmark to help the International Youth Service and Development Corps, which seeks to help children graduate high school while avoiding early parenting and entanglement in the criminal justice system.
The program is one of three nonprofits under the Southeast White House (so named because its architecture mirrors that of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.), which is located east of the Anacostia River and caters to the local community.
“D.C. is our nation’s capital and, therefore, a city that belongs to all Americans,” said spokeswoman Wendy Cook. “For years, Tiahrt has tried to get his fellow colleagues involved and engaged on the efforts of the Southeast White House for the youth and families of the District.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) helped D.C. residents by funding a group in her own district. The Florida lawmaker obtained a $231,000 earmark for the ARISE Foundation, which is taking part in a project to provide life-management skills training to youths in the District.
So what did D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) manage to get for her constituents?
Norton’s biggest earmark, $131,000, will go to help rebuild Eastern Market, which was damaged in a fire in April.
Other Norton-backed earmarks include $10,000 for Menzfit, a career development and interview preparation program; $40,000 for the Howard University College of Dentistry; $40,000 for the Center for Inspired Teaching; and $10,000 for the Sitar Center for the Arts.