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Specter serves up something to chew on

Connoisseurs of a certain simply prepared sandwich should have no difficulty following today's piece.

Because it deals with government pork projects and their potential implications on Pennsylvania's upcoming Senate race, the entire column is coming to you in easily understandable, appetite-inducing BLT format.

The bacon component deals with the pork being dispensed by Pennsylvania's senior spender — er, senator — Arlen Specter.

The lettuce portion is the perspective offered by the head of the organization that painstakingly tracks unnecessary government spending.

The tomato• I don't want to give everything away. But rest assured that just as in an actual BLT, it is no mere garnishment.

Now then, on to the sizzle:

The bacon

Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual report on pork-barrel spending Tuesday, and Specter's name turned up about as often as a crude expletive at a Friars Club roast.

The Washington-based watchdog group linked Pennsylvania's increasingly embattled Republican senator to 312 pork projects.

The cost to taxpayers of the projects, which usually are not the subject of congressional hearings, serve only a local or special interest and are not competitively awarded: $228 million.

Specter might be a relative piker compared to the crown prince of pork, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., whose 112 projects total $382 million.

But that fact isn't likely to appease the many conservatives angry at Specter for recently supporting President Obama's economic stimulus package.

The lettuce

"Senator Specter has been on the appropriations committee for many years, so this really isn't out of the ordinary for him," said Thomas Schatz, Citizens Against Government Waste president.

Schatz noted that out of the 312 items in the Health and Human Services funding appropriation, Specter was responsible for the inclusion of 186. Of those 186 appropriations, 139 were for the same amount — $95,000.

"He's obviously trying to please as many people as possible," Schatz said. "To give a set amount of money to a large group of recipients, I think, really shows the randomness and inequity of all of these earmarks."

The tomato

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey stepped down Monday as head of the conservative advocacy organization Club for Growth to challenge Specter.

Care to wager that Toomey, who almost knocked off Specter in the 2004 Republican primary, might grill his opponent over his propensity for pork?

Schatz believes it's a distinct possibility.

"Sen. Specter clearly thinks this is an essential part of his representation," Schatz said. "Whether or not the citizens of Pennsylvania appreciate that might well be a part of the campaign."

Count on it.

And don't be surprised if an increasing number of people find Specter's fondness for dispensing pork difficult to digest.

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