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Spending bill is a mixed bag

It's a strange time of mixed messages. Last week, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith of Oregon publicly celebrated passage of a $555 billion omnibus spending bill that would keep the federal government funded and direct millions of dollars to community projects throughout Oregon.

On Wednesday, President Bush signed the legislation but loudly complained that the spending bill was littered with nearly 10,000 pork-barrel projects that he chastised as potentially wasteful because many were funded without being judged on their merits.

Which was it? Good legislation for taxpayers and states like Oregon? Or a sign of waste?

Probably some of both.

We applaud federal support of:

• Community-based efforts to prevent methamphetamine addiction throughout Oregon.

• Expanded programs for mental illness and suicide prevention.

• Dredging of the Columbia River to deepen its channel and allow for larger oceangoing freighters - as well as to improve natural habitats along the river and to provide repairs to a weakened jetty at the mouth of the Columbia.

• Investments in Oregon-based research and development of nanotechnology, such as miniature electrical systems.

• Expansion of light-rail lines into Clackamas County.

• Research efforts at a Tigard-based firm whose blood-clotting materials are saving lives of soldiers injured in Iraq and that can save the lives of people injured domestically in automobile or household accidents.

Even though the expenditures represent good investments by the federal government, we strongly believe that there is a better way to do things than by authorizing 9,800 federal earmarks - a number that has dropped about 15 percent from four years ago.

It's time to require that federal investments be tied to policies, programs and projects that are part of national, regional and local initiatives that discernibly move the nation and its states and communities forward.

Numerous economic, sustainability, education and transportation strategies come to mind.

We don't think for a minute that the nation's bureaucracy will change by itself. And it's ridiculous to believe we can improve government spending simply by throwing out all of those who are elected to national (or local) office.

Citizens can demand change by requiring elected officials at all levels - and particularly in Washington, D.C. - to explain clearly why and how what they are saying, doing or spending money on makes a measurable difference in achieving priority outcomes, such as an improved and sustained economy; reduction of pollution and global warming; enhanced public safety and community livability; and education of young people and the work force of today and tomorrow.

It's a simple question that can be routinely posed: 'Why is something important to fund?'

This articulation and measurement should be applied to everything that citizens want, government does and elected leaders support.

Oregon can be a leader in this regard. After a long wait in earning congressional seniority, Wyden and Smith - as well as U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Greg Walden, David Wu, Peter DeFazio and Darlene Hooley - can begin by doing things differently themselves.

And they can motivate others in elected office to change with them by more clearly and honestly explaining why the things they say, do and fund are important to outcomes that measurably make a difference.