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December 18, 2007

My very own Bridge to Nowhere

For the past few weeks I've been trying my bestest to put away my procrastinatin' practices of the past and get to work on a year-end profile on one of our senators. Every time I open up the doc to start working my verbal magic, however, it seems like the Powers That Be at my news establishment toss another urgent assignment my way.

This morning I went in with every intention of taking that profile by its horns and shaking it every way to Sunday until it didn't know what cliche was going to hit it next, but fate had other plans for me.

A dude at the home office asked if I could assemble a spreadsheet of all the pork our delegation had requested in the 11-bill omnibus legislation Congress has been trying to squeeze out before they go home for the holidays. I had already printed off lists of earmarks on the original bills last week, when it looked like House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) was going to strip away all the billions of dollars for lawmakers' pet projects to bring the bill closer to the amount President Bush wanted. Facing an uproar from some very unhappy campers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reneged. I kept all the lists just in case debate resurfaced.

(A note about earmarks: they get a lot of negative press because some of them are truly ridiculous, like Sen. Ted Steven's (R-Alaska) $315 million Bridge to Nowhere or Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) much-maligned request for $1 million for a museum commemorating the Woodstock music festival. But most of them go to really worthwhile projects, like road repair or social service programs.)

Because I had all those handy lists, I thought it was going to be a breeze to plug them into a happy little database. And it was fun for this Excel geek, at least for a little while. As the day wore on, I started getting press releases from various legislators' offices enumerating the amounts they would receive for their myriad projects in the omnibus bill, amounts sometimes very different from what I had listed. Why hadn't I just looked at the omnibus bill text in the first place to pick out what I needed, you ask? My dear, silly, friend: this behemoth is thousands of pages long. And the document is unsearchable, thankyouverymuch. (I was going to link to it so you could behold its glory but 10 minutes' worth of Google searching has proved unfruitful and I'm bored with the pursuit.)

So I had to meticulously compare the press release figures with the ones I already had, going line-by-mother-freaking-line. Then the Powers That Be decided they wanted the Senate numbers in there, too... we might as well make it a "master" document, eh? Eh indeed. The House and Senate project names often vary at least slightly, so finding corresponding entries was a real treat.

After hours (upon hours... upon hours...) of increasing my susceptibility of carpal tunnel syndrome, I finally finished and chirped my relief to my coworker.

"Yeah, I don't know if we're still going to use that or need it, but I'm glad we have it! Thanks!" he said.

Editor's note: Apparently Nugget wasn't smart enough to Google search "text of omnibus bill," because if she had she would have found this right away.

2 comments:

  1. Spreadsheets are worth their weight in turduckens!

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  2. If it makes you feel any better, I was in the same position at this time last year. However, I don't believe I put together as large a database as you have. It only included about 90 or so precious prizes. On the bright side, you will be forever loved because a certain colleague of yours doesn't really know how to use Excell.

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