November 26, 2005
OpinionJournal has an op-ed up about our Congress of Invertebrates.
I've copied the entire article into the extended entry.
Posted by USAdave at November 26, 2005 08:00 AM | TrackBack
A Bridge Too Far
Coburn beats Stevens by a PR knockout.
Monday, November 21, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
Congress limped out of town last week for its Thanksgiving recess, and just in the nick of time. With its Iraq duck-and-cover, the failure to extend expiring tax cuts, and the refusal to control spending, the Members were doing more damage to the republic every day they stayed around.
Amid the carnage, however, there was one small triumph last week: Senate Appropriations powerhouse Ted Stevens decided to pull funding for the infamous $320 million "Bridge to Nowhere" in his home state of Alaska. For those joining this story in progress, the proposed project would have connected Ketchikan, Alaska with remote Gravina Island (population 50).
The bridge had become the poster child for Republican fiscal extravagance and the object of justified ridicule across the political spectrum. Ron Utt, fiscal analyst at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the construction costs were so enormous that it would have been cheaper for taxpayers to purchase a yacht for every Gravina family than to build the bridge. One recent poll found that more Americans know about the Bridge to Nowhere than know who their local Congressman is. Which, given Congress's 30% approval rating, is probably the way most Members prefer it these days.
The one hero of this episode is Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), who sponsored an amendment to block funding for the bridge and use the money to repair vital bridges on the Gulf Coast destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Stevens erupted on the Senate floor and threatened to quit if the measure passed. The vote failed. However, Mr. Stevens threw in the towel last Tuesday, announcing that he was taking this "drastic action" because his state had been "so unfairly maligned in the national press" in recent weeks.
We readily admit to being one of the leading maligners, though of Congress, not of Alaskans. Mr. Stevens has been in an arms race with Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia to see whose state could win the distinction of pork capital of the nation.
Mr. Stevens has pulled way ahead, with Alaskans ranking first in the nation in pork at $985 per resident and receiving about $5 of federal highway money for every dollar they pay in gas taxes. So even without the Bridge to Nowhere, Alaskans will do just fine in the return-on-taxes-paid department. In any case, Mr. Stevens isn't redirecting the bridge's $320 million to New Orleans. The deal is that the money stays in Alaska but will be spent on other road projects.
It would be nice to think that this bridge humiliation would teach Congress about the folly of spending earmarks. The uproar has done enormous damage to the GOP majority's public image, which is of course why Mr. Stevens blew up his bridge. But, alas, apparently this is merely a symbolic and tactical spending retreat. Late last week, GOP House leaders suffered another defeat on the floor when a health and education spending bill failed to pass. One reason? Twenty or so GOP Members were angry that their special projects had been stripped from the legislation to save money. The bridge that these folks are building is one to being called "Mr. Ranking Member."