Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jun 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.


Helping Colombia expand its war against drugs will cost U.S. taxpayers $1.3 
billion. Keeping American troops deployed in Kosovo and aiding Americans 
stricken by disasters here at home runs to an additional $4.1 billion. 
Rebuilding fire-damaged Los Alamos National Laboratory could go as high as 
$448 million.

Important undertakings, important enough for Congress to agree to fund them 
with emergency legislation. Expensive undertakings, but not so expensive 
that they add up to the $12 billion Congress is considering.

In an annual phenomenon as inevitable as the blossoming of coca plants in 
the Bogota suburbs, members of Congress are once again larding up emergency 
legislation with goodies for the voters back home. Start with roughly $6 
billion in seed money, fertilize liberally and watch it grow.

An added twist this time is the spectacle of Congress acting as though 
keeping $6 billion from ballooning beyond twice its size is a feat of 
restraint. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says $12 billion is less than 
$13 billion and much less than $20 billion  a lesson in advanced 
mathematics that will, according to the Mississippi Republican, ''save 
taxpayers a boatload of money.''

In conjuring up a phantom ship of nonexistent savings, Sen. Lott and his 
colleagues hope to divert attention from the $6 billion in locally 
targeted, special-interest projects that could not, on their own merit, get 
through an essentially gridlocked Congress. No one wants to vote against 
ending the scourge of cocaine, supporting troops overseas or aiding the 
victims of natural disasters or Park Service-prescribed burns and 12 is 
undeniably less than 20.

Much of the excess is typical  money for peanut growers, more money for 
dairy and agriculture assistance (sponsored by Sen. Lott's Mississippi 
teammate, Sen. Thad Cochran, and on top of the $15.3 billion emergency 
bailout signed into law just last week), lots more money for aircraft the 
military doesn't want but that an aircraft manufacturer wants to build. 
Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, continues to assert himself as 
the king of pork, acquiring for his home state tens of millions to complete 
a dam the state started but would rather let someone else finish, $9.8 
million to help the mining industry meet federal environmental rules other 
industries meet out of their own pockets and $25 million for a U.S. Customs 
training facility, ideally located in a state without a foreign border or 
an international port of entry.

Not content with greasing his constituents with a federal project or two, 
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg is reaching beyond the borders of New Hampshire 
to help his alma mater, Columbia University. Columbia holds a patent on a 
drug-making process that has proven quite lucrative in its nearly 17-year 
life span  so lucrative that Columbia would like, and may well get, an 
extension. The pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough is finding plenty of 
senators to help extend its patent on the popular allergy drug Claritin, 
also about to expire.

Coming as they do in the midst of an angry debate over pharmaceutical 
prices, the brazenness of these requests is almost as startling as 
Congress' willingness to rewrite what essentially is a contract between 
patent holders and the public. Americans have been told repeatedly that the 
high drug prices they pay are justified by the fact that the patents 
protecting research investments run out after a specific time and allow 
competitors to manufacture cheaper generics. Now, Americans must find 
themselves in partial agreement with Sen. Lott  it's a boatload.
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