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Pulling pork can be unappetizing

  • Story Highlights
  • Earmarks are nearly secret pet projects added to federal spending bill
  • White House spokesman: Congress should openly debate worthy projects
  • A mule museum, ski lift, and airport improvements are earmarked for 2008
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By Drew Griffin
CNN
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

Mule museum

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, wants $50,000 to build a museum honoring the mule.

(CNN) -- Most members of Congress call them earmarks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to get them called "legislatively directed spending." But for almost every American taxpayer I've run into over the last year, it's called "pork" and it's not very tasty.

Earmarks are those nearly secret pet projects that are added onto the government's spending bills year after year. On Monday night, President Bush will announce what are being called "unprecedented changes" in the way lawmakers earmark money for special projects that benefit their districts or campaign contributors.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "The president will say that if these spending items are worthy, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote."

Over the last year, I have traveled from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, California, to Alaska uncovering the secret pet projects of Congress.

Here are some of the highlights:

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National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Cost: $39 million

This earmark request by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, pays for 200 federal jobs in the depressed steel mill town of Johnstown. CNN couldn't find anyone who could say what goes on inside a former department store where the National Drug Intelligence Center is. A government accounting office report says the center provides information on the drug war to police departments across the country. The same report also found 19 other government agencies doing this work and has suggested the $39 million-a-year center be shut down. The White House Office of Management and Budget in 2005 said the National Drug Intelligence Center "has proven ineffective in achieving its assigned mission." Taxpayers continue to pay for it.

C-17 cargo plane
Cost: $2.4 billion

The U.S. Air Force wanted the C-17 production line to be shut down. The Air Force has asked for two more of the C-17 cargo planes and that's it. The earmark is for an additional 10 C-17 cargo planes to be built at a whopping cost of $2.4 billion. Who is asking for them? The seven members of Congress who have signed on to this earmark all have a piece of the C-17 being built in their districts -- Reps. Todd Akin, R-Missouri; Russ Carnahan, D-Missouri; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Kenny Hulshof, R-Missouri; Ken Calvert, R-California; and Dana Rohrabacher, R-California.

Museums

Here are just a few of the 63 museums that will receive earmarks for 2008 spending bills.

  • Mule Museum, Bishop, California -- $50,000 to begin the planning of a museum dedicated to the mule.
  • W.A. Young and Sons Foundry, Rices Landing, Pennsylvania -- $150,000 to spruce up a foundry museum open two days a year
  • National First Ladies' Library, Canton, Ohio -- $130,000 to prepare a catalog of the original White House library books bought by Abigail Fillmore during the administration of her husband, President Millard Fillmore, in 1850.
  • International Museum of Women, San Francisco, California -- $600,000 for a museum that exists only on the Internet. Its Web site reads, "Think of it as a museum without walls."
  • Airports

  • Nantucket and Barnstable, Massachusetts -- $8 million to replace the control towers at the airports in Barnstable and Nantucket, Massachusetts. These are the home airports for the two Democratic senators making the request. Sen. Ted Kennedy has a home in Hyannis Port, near the Barnstable Municipal Airport on Cape Cod. Sen. John Kerry shares a vacation home with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, on Nantucket.
  • Rice Lake, Wisconsin -- $2 million to improve a runway in rural Wisconsin used primarily for two or three corporate jets. There are no regular commercial flights at Rice Lake.
  • Akutan, Alaska -- $3.5 million to build an airport on this remote Alaskan island, requested by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The airport would be used primarily for a large seafood company that gives money to Stevens' election campaigns and political action committee funds.
  • Here are a few others:

  • $500,000 to renovate a ski lift in Alaska
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  • $96,000 to help upgrade a luxury hotel in Florida
  • $500,000 for Barracks Row in Washington. This request was from Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-California. Lewis owns a townhouse in the nation's capital near there.
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