Politics & Government

Congress might scrutinize South Florida's stimulus wish list

Households across the country are slicing their budgets and going without, but Congress managed to set aside tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in a massive spending bill up for debate in the Senate this week.

The $410 billion federal spending bill, which pays for federal government operations until October, includes millions of dollars for cleaning up the Everglades and dredging the Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami. Both of Florida's senators and nearly every House member nabbed millions.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz even touts this as her best year ever: She secured more than $20 million in the package, including nearly $1 million for the city of Miami to fit streetlights with energy-friendly bulbs and solar technology.

Critics say the projects bloat the federal budget and benefit the politically potent; lawmakers defend them as critical to their hometowns.

"Our constituents deserve to see resources coming back from the taxes they pay in," said Wasserman Schultz, who notes Florida remains a "donor state," paying more in taxes than it receives from the federal government.

Still, the spending this year is controversial even among those seeking the so-called earmarks. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, secured $6 million for renovations at Naval Air Station Key West, but voted against the spending bill when it cleared the House last week, calling it a "huge bill that goes way beyond its original intent." The bill boosts spending for many federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation.

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