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Pigs at the trough – and proud of it

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith are probably no more braggadocio than the average member of Congress, but it is no less repulsive to listen to them congratulate themselves for bringing home the pork.

Like members of Congress across the land, Wyden and Smith are portraying themselves as legislative Santa Clauses for bringing home millions of dollars worth of 'gifts' approved recently as part of the $555 billion omnibus-spending bill. The gifts were charged to your account with the Internal Revenue Service, which will be due and payable April 15.

In an announcement issued on Christmas Eve, our illustrious senatorial team presented $360 million worth of Oregon projects, which should make fodder for pleasant conversations with constituents back home during the holiday recess. No doubt the folks in Umatilla, in Smith's home stompin' grounds, will be delighted to hear of the senator's success in snagging $450,000 for a new exposition center at the county fairgrounds while the people in Portland get the bill. Wyden can likewise expect a rousing round of applause the next time he attends a Portland City Club meeting and talks about the $78 million he landed for an 8.3-mile, light-rail extension to the MAX in Portland, the cost of which will be borne by people in Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina.

Imagine scenarios like these unfolding in town hall meetings from Maine to California and Florida to Washington. One hundred members of the nation's most exclusive country club fanning out into the heartland bearing gifts to the needy - a new military base here, a senior center there, a highway project everywhere - a little something for everybody.

The list of goodies goes on for 696 mind-numbing pages, which were delivered to members of Congress just one day before the bill was approved, which means A) they didn't read the document before they voted on it, or B) they are speed readers.

To be sure, Omnibus 2008 is quite a list, if you have the time and stamina to read it. Here are a few highlights:

• $13 million for flamingo washes in Nevada, compliments of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

• $250,000 for wolf monitoring, compliments of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.

v$200,000 for mussel recovery in West Virginia, complements of Sen. Robert Byrd.

• $292,000 to Jewish Family Services of Delaware for a 'naturally occurring retirement community,' courtesy of Sen. Joe Biden.

• $2.7 for a volcano observatory in Alaska, thanks to Sen. Ted Stevens.

Name your poison, because there's plenty to go around: $300,000 for tick-borne disease research in Rhode Island, $878,000 for a catfish genome study in Alabama and $4 million to look into the Formosan subterranean termite in New Orleans.

Things really get crazy starting on Page 524, which is a section of Omnibus 2008 that has to do with military spending. The numbers in this section are so huge they're expressed in thousands of dollars instead of single dollars like the other shopping lists. For example, a base camp that is going to be built in Bulgaria next year by the U.S. Army shows up as a line item for $51,000, but the instructions at the top remind the reader he or she must multiply that number by 1,000 to come up with the real price tag: $51 million, a figure by the way that is enough to cover medical outreach programs such as HIV screening, teen pregnancy centers and drug and alcohol rehab proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services in 31 American cities.

It is clear every state has a vested financial interest in keeping the military spending spree going, which is why Omnibus looks like a shopping free-for-all. Military construction in 2008, which is a miniscule fraction of the armed forces budget, accounts for $64 million for Alabama, $307 million for Alaska, $193 million for Arizona and $5 million for Arkansas, and those are just the 'A' states. California gets a whopping $700 million. Those expenditures, and similar expenditures for the other 46 states, do not include a dime for big-ticket items like aircraft, ships, bombs, bullets and tanks. Those are extra, buried in another massive shopping list, so keep that in mind as you ready your check to the IRS. Oh, and don't forget the war in Iraq. That'll be another $31 billion.

If all of this is starting to sound like pigs grunting at the trough, maybe it is. The sad part is it happens every year in one big gluttonous fell swoop, usually around Christmas - and then the perpetrators go home and brag about it.

Rick Swart is the publisher of the South County Spotlight.