* Powerful Senator Mikulski has big say over big money
* Dueling for dollars in era of declining budgets
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, March 22 Many members of Congress
looked pretty helpless this week as they fought to save
cherished programs in their states from across-the-board budget
But after Congress wrapped up work on a bill to fund the
government through September, some members looked less helpless
than others. Among them was Senate Appropriations Committee
Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland.
Neither Mikulski nor Congress as a whole saved any agency
from the $85 billion in cuts known as the "sequestration." But
thanks to the committee she leads, some programs based in
Maryland emerged better off this week than they were the week
* The government's Agricultural Research Service, based in
Beltsville, Maryland, got a billion dollars for agricultural
* The Coast Guard yard where ships are maintained in Curtis
Bay, Maryland, just outside Baltimore; 600 military and civilian
workers will be funded for the rest of this fiscal year thanks
to $18.5 million allocated to it in the funding bill.
* The National Institutes of Health, the famed medical
research facility based in Bethesda, Maryland, which got about
$71 million more this year than the previous year.
* The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which
got an increase of $43 million for labs and technical research,
among other things. NIST is headquartered in Gaithersburg,
* The Food and Drug Administration, in Rockville, Maryland,
which got a total of $2.5 billion, about the same as last year.
* NASA, the space program, funded at $17.5 billion, with a
big slice of it going to the agency's Goddard Space Flight
Center in Beltsville, Maryland.
While they got funding from the committee, the agencies were
still trying to figure out the precise gains in their budgets.
Asked about her results by Reuters, she said through a
spokeswoman: "The good news is that Congress came
together...preventing a (government) shutdown," Mikulski said.
"In Maryland, that means NIH, NSA, FDA, NIST, Social Security
and the other critical agencies are open and continuing their
missions protecting national and community security and meeting
compelling human needs."
While not a "redo" of the across-the-board sequestration -
the total spending for the government is largely unchanged - the
bill to fund the government (and prevent a shutdown) was a
chance to do some rearranging, and the Appropriations Committee
These are not "earmarks" - the special gifts from members to
specific projects often shrouded in secrecy. The programs
Mikulski's committee aided benefit Americans well beyond the
borders of Maryland and the extra money they got was
appropriated in full public view.
Other members had success too. Republican Senator Roy Blunt
of Missouri and Democratic Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and
Christopher Coons of Delaware introduced the amendment that gave
some relief to meat inspectors, who were going to be furloughed
en masse due to the sequestration. All represent states with
beef or poultry industries.
Many more failed, like Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas
Republican, who delayed Senate action on the continuing budget
resolution in an unsuccessful effort to preserve air control
towers operated by contract at small airports.
And Mikulski is not running away from her success. On the
contrary, she issued press releases and statements.
"Mikulski Fights to Protect Jobs at U.S. Coast Guard Yard at
Curtis Bay," said one.
"The Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay employs more than 600
military and civilian personnel," it said. "These federal funds
will ensure that the Coast Guard can continue to do the work
that is so crucial to America's homeland security and the
economic security of Maryland."
Mikulski's state stands to lose a lot more than many others
so she had more to protect. Maryland is where the federal money
Federal funds flow heavily to states like Maryland and
Virginia because that is where many of the federal agencies are
located, just outside of the nation's capital.
These have been tough times for federal workers in states
like Maryland, where they have endured back-to-back years of pay
freezes and the threat of temporary layoffs as they get caught
in the crossfire of Washington's budget wars.
"It's a case of where it's maybe not as bad as under
earmarks," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for
Common Sense. Nonetheless, powerful members of Congress still
have an outsized say over spending, Ellis said.