HIGHTOWER: Mr. Pork Becomes Mr. Chairman

You don't have to be bent over double with intellect to know that it's a bad idea to put a dog in charge of guarding the meat counter.But here come the Republican leaders of Congress putting that sneaky old hound Ted Stevens in charge of the Senate appropriations committee. With the current chairman set to retire, Senator Stevens of Alaska is set to become top dog on the committee that controls the government's purse strings. Sources close to him say that he is very "excited" about the opportunity that lies ahead.I'll bet. Stevens, you see, never met a piece of pork he didn't snap at. For years, he has chaired an appropriations subcommittee whose theme song is: "Roll Out the Barrel, We'll have a Barrel of Fun." Whenever a spending bill comes before him, his first question is always: "Where's mine?"Republicans -- including Stevens -- may talk a good game of cutting spending and balancing the budget, but at heart this guy is a throwback to the Backroom Bosses of a Bygone Era. Indeed, the group Citizens Against Government Waste gave him a special "Oinker" award last year for having procured more than a quarter of a billion-dollars worth of pork projects that he hauled back to Alaska.These are mostly military and energy department projects that the agencies did not request, that are not needed and that other lawmakers didn't even get to vote to approve -- as subcommittee chair, Sen. Stevens simply waved his wand and (poof!) the money "magically" appeared in the spending bill. While other subcommittee chairs were slightly reducing porkbarrel spending last year, old Ted was larding his part of the appropriations bill with 133 percent more pork than the previous year.Now he's to be in charge of the whole trough?Keep your eye on Republicans like Stevens who talk so loudly about cutting the budget, but always have their hands in your pockets.

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