Republican candidates spar over congressional spending

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Republican presidential candidates U.S. Rep. former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (L) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. The debate is the last one scheduled before voters head to the polls in Michigan and Arizona's primaries on February 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republican rivals on Wednesday attacked each other over congressional spending on pet projects, with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney each defending their past use as they vowed to oppose them as president.

"While I was fighting to save the Olympics you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere," the former Massachusetts governor said to the former Pennsylvania senator, referring to Santorum's vote for the infamous Alaskan bridge that was never completed.

At the CNN-sponsored debate in Mesa, Arizona - the 20th - Santorum has criticized Romney for seeking federal funds for the Olympics in Salt Lake City that he ran, but Romney said that was his job as the head of the organization.

Santorum said it is Congress' job to decide how money is spent instead of sending a blank check to the executive branch, even as he said he would oppose them if he landed in the White House.

"Congress has a role in allocating resources when they think the administration has it wrong," he said, adding "as president, I would oppose earmarks."

More from the debate:

Santorum fights charges he's a "fake" conservative
GOP candidates blast Obama for birth control ruling
Republican candidates condemn auto bailout

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also defended earmarks but called the debate silly, and Rep. Ron Paul said it is important for the legislative branch to have a say in how taxpayer money is spent.

"If the Congress doesn't say the way the money should be spent it goes to the executive branch and that's the bad part," Paul said, adding "even if I'm president I don't want more power over that funding."

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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