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INSIDE WASHINGTON: Pork trumps preserving history

Mar 31, 2011 3:24:00 AM - thestate.com
One of the first victims of Washington's new tough-on-spending culture is a historic preservation program that saved the flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" and preserved thousands of other fragile national treasures.

A pet cause of then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Save America's Treasures" began in 1998 as a way to safeguard historical documents, films and artifacts such as the Montgomery, Ala., bus in which civil rights icon Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. The program died this month, the victim of raids by lawmakers who hijacked it to fund their own pet projects.

Capitol Hill's powerful appropriations committees had taken over half of its budget to rejuvenate back-home movie theaters, old courthouses, schools and lighthouses in a process that rewards political muscle, not historical merit. President Barack Obama proposed terminating it last month and Congress obliged five weeks later.

"While there have been many high-quality projects, at least half of ... projects are annually earmarked by Congress," the White House complained in Obama's budget proposal for next year.

GOP Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas, for instance, won $500,000 in 2009 to help restore an old theatre as a way to help revitalize downtown Pittsburg, Kan. That same year, Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin obtained $100,000 to replace a sea wall to protect a lighthouse on Lake Michigan. And Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., obtained $171,000 to help restore a county courthouse.