GOP fiscal hawks embrace pricey pet projects

Bringing home the bacon is one of Washington's oldest traditions.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress spend considerable time trying to get federal funds for pet projects in their home districts.

So how's that affected some of the newer members who came to Washington vowing to cut federal spending at every turn? CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that in some cases, apparently, not at all.

Everyone agrees the old Stillwater Bridge linking Minnesota and Wisconsin is on its last legs and must go. But the fancy, $700 million replacement in the works costs double the cheaper alternative.

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A bill co-sponsored by Republican freshman Sean Duffy paved the way for the expensive bridge to be built, even though he ran on this platform: "Our national debt has grown sky high thanks to the liberals in D.C. I'll work in Congress to cut spending and balance the budget."

Duffy's office told us his bill doesn't fund the bridge, it simply allows it to move forward and has some Democratic support too.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense sees it as a perfect example of excess Congress can't seem to resist, even during a time of fiscal crisis.

"There's an alternative that's hundreds of millions of dollars less, maybe not the signature bridge, maybe not the tourist attraction, but actually could get the job done for far less money," Ellis says.

Freshman Republican Steven Palazzo of Mississippi also ran as a fiscal conservative. Then he added more than $150 million to the defense budget, bound for a shipyard in his own district.

He didn't want to talk to CBS News but has said he's "glad to be able to help ensure the long-term viability of our shipbuilding industry."

Republican Duncan Hunter, now in his second term, added $5 million to the 2012 defense budget destined for Trex Enterprises, where employees are major donors to his campaign. Hunter also asked for $3 million in tax dollars for Trex in 2010.

A spokesman for Hunter told us part of his role in Congress is drawing business to companies in his district.

If Congress really expects to do more with less, it's not evident in their add-ons to the 2012 defense budget. There are fewer of them than in years past, but they add up to just as much as before: about $1.3 billion.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.