Obama signs U.S. budget into law; Oregon gets $211 million in goodies
by Charles Pope, The Oregonian March 11, 2009
WASHINGTON -- For all the critics of the $410 billion spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday, some local officials across Oregon welcome the new money for everything from education to salmon restoration to upgrading the Pendleton Round-Up.
An estimated $211 million in Oregon projects is included in the bill that finances some of the government's biggest agencies for the rest of the fiscal year.
The new law prevents the government from shutting down, but passage wasn't easy. Most Republicans and even some Democrats revolted because the bill was studded with 8,816 earmarks, spending inserted by individual lawmakers for specific projects and programs in specific places.
Critics call the earmarks wasteful pork that breeds corruption. Their objections delayed passage of the bill for three days even though 40 percent of the earmarks in the bill were written by Republicans.
Even Obama complained about the earmarks, saying he was "signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it's necessary for the ongoing functions of government."
At the same time, he said during the signing ceremony, "Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination."
Obama's remarks coincided with new policies announced by House Democrats intended to restrict earmarks. From now on, Democratic leaders said, the executive branch must be given 20 days to review any earmarks.
In the end, however, no earmark was removed.
And Portland officials are pleased.
The city will be getting $45 million to create a new loop for the city's streetcar system linking existing service to the Lloyd District and all the way to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The law will funnel $3.3 million for continued design work for a new Columbia River crossing on Interstate 5 and $333,000 for the science research teaching center at Portland State University. The law also provides $370,000 to help Portland cope with homeless and low-income veterans.
"With this bill, we have a government spending package that reflects the priorities of Oregonians," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore, who was able to collect funding for such things as research into fish disease, the study of "problems facing organic agriculture" and money to help rural doctors convert to digital record-keeping.
Other Oregon lawmakers were able to sprinkle money to other parts of the state.
Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley together secured $460,000 to upgrade facilities for the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Facilities and $380,000 for renewable energy studies and to finance a telemedicine project.
The two senators also wrote a $475,000 provision that will allow a truck-climbing lane to be built on Interstate 84 near Three Mile Hill and $380,600 to investigate the possibility of using an old military facility in Christmas Valley for generating solar, wind, and possibly geothermal- power.
Wyden and Merkley highlighted the benefits to eastern Oregon, which has been especially hard hit by the sinking economy.
"This bill will bring funding for these crucial projects to eastern Oregon, improving education and access to quality health care while investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy," Wyden said.
Merkley said the bill will help stabilize the region's economy.
Aside from money specifically for Oregon, the state will benefit from millions of dollars directed to regional programs.
The law provides $80 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which finances programs across the Northwest to save salmon. Separately, $20 million is provided to continue removing the Elwha Dam in Washington state that scientists say has harmed salmon stocks.
It also has $34.4 million to dredge and deepen the Columbia River channel to allow larger vessels to use the river and $1.4 million for ecosystem restoration for the lower Columbia River. That work will benefit salmon, steelhead and other species.
The New York Times contributed to this report. Reach
Charles Pope at