Stevens: Federal funds for Alaska projects in doubt

Congress could drop $820 billion spending bill

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2003

WASHINGTON - Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said he doesn't have the votes to pass the $820 billion government spending bill and Congress is likely to scrap the legislation if the Senate doesn't approve it soon after it reconvenes Jan. 20.

"It will be hard to pass," the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee told Alaska reporters Monday. "I have every hope to get it, but I don't think we have those votes yet."

Alaska has scores of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars riding on the bill. They include $74 million for rural sanitation projects, $35 million for rural hospitals and clinics, and $2 million for water and sewer projects in Anchorage's Sand Lake area.

The bill also contains a policy rider that would grant Bering Sea crab processors exclusive rights to purchase 90 percent of the catch. The provision has prompted protest by fishermen in Alaska. Stevens wrote most of the Alaska provisions.

The bill, a merger of seven appropriations bills Congress normally passes one at a time, would fund a big swath of the federal government, including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Transportation. It includes $2.4 billion to fight AIDS abroad and a 12 percent boost in spending for veteran's health care.

The House approved the package Dec. 8, but the next day Senate Democrats objected, effectively stalling it for six weeks.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have raised the perennial complaint the bill is loaded with pork, especially for Alaska and other states represented by members of the appropriations committees.

Citizens Against Government Waste mocked several particulars, including $725,000 for the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, $2 million to encourage more young people to play golf, $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa and $1 million for the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Objections also were raised over other policy riders the bill contains, or would have if the Bush administration had not threatened to veto.

Democrats and some Republicans are upset Republican negotiators gave in to the White House demand to allow a greater concentration of media companies. The administration also forced the removal of a provision that would have prevented it from enforcing new limits on overtime pay for some white-collar workers.

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