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Originally published Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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16 Emanuel earmarks in federal spending bill

Although President Obama has repeatedly pledged to ban congressional earmarks, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has 16 such projects, worth $8.5 million, in the bill the Senate is to begin debating today.

McClatchy Newspapers

The day in D.C.

Taxes to be paid: Ron Kirk, President Obama's nominee as U.S. trade representative, agreed to pay $9,975 in back taxes, partly for improperly deducting tickets to Dallas Mavericks basketball games, a Senate panel said.

Pentagon fraud: Contractor Charlene Corley, who pleaded guilty to bilking the Pentagon out of more than $20 million during a nine-year fraudulent-billing scheme, was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to repay $15.5 million by a federal judge in Columbia, S.C. Corley, co-owner of a South Carolina parts distributor, charged $998,798 for shipping two 19-cent washers to an Army base in Texas; $455,009 to ship three machine screws costing $1.31 each to Marines in Habbaniyah, Iraq; and $293,451 to ship an 89-cent split washer to Patrick Air Force Base in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Pentagon records show.

New push to regulate cigarettes: With support from President Obama, who's been trying to kick the habit himself, lawmakers renewed their efforts Monday to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products, to reduce the harm from smoking. Legislation, which passed the House last summer but didn't come up in the Senate because then-President Bush would have vetoed it, was reintroduced by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Seattle Times news services

WASHINGTON — Although President Obama has repeatedly pledged to ban congressional earmarks, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has 16 such projects, worth $8.5 million, in the bill the Senate is to begin debating today.

The earmarks include money for a Chicago planetarium and a Chicago suburb. Obama has been relentless in criticizing the use of earmarks; in his address to a joint session of Congress last week, he boasted how the economic-stimulus package was "free of earmarks."

By the end of this week, however, Obama's likely to sign a separate $410 billion spending plan that keeps most domestic programs funded through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. It's a plan that contains about 9,000 earmarks.

Emanuel, who until Jan. 2 was a congressman from Chicago, dismissed the bill Sunday as "last year's business." Most of the measure was written in 2008. It stalled when the Democratic-led Congress and former President Bush disagreed on spending levels.

Emanuel's name remains on the bill, and senior adviser Sarah Feinberg explained, "He has no control over it."

Among the projects with Emanuel's name attached are $900,000 for equipment at Chicago's Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum; $95,000 for "educational expenses" at the Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview, Ill.; and $950,000 for "street rehabilitation" in the village of Franklin Park, Ill.

Emanuel had partners on some earmarks. He joined members from several states on a $404,000 earmark for Great Lakes Basin program for soil erosion and sediment control. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis, both Illinois Democrats, also sought the planetarium funds, and Emanuel teamed with Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky for the Kohl money.

The overall spending bill would provide an 8 percent increase in spending, and while the earmarks represent less than 1 percent of the cost, they've become political fodder for budget critics.

About 40 percent of the projects were inserted in the bill by Republicans.

"We are a separate branch of government, and since we've been a country, we have had the obligation as a Congress to help direct spending," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We cannot let spending be done by a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats buried in this town someplace to take care of the needs of the state of Nevada, Washington and New York."

Earmarks have come under fire because, at times, they're favors for lobbyists and special interests and are inserted into legislation at the last minute. Identifying the sponsor or the favored interest can be very difficult.

Feinberg, however, noted Emanuel always listed on his House Web site earmarks he requests and how the money would be used.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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