Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Back to the troth

I lost any optimism about our political system after W. defeated McCain in the GOP primary six years ago. So even though we heard a lot in recent months about widespread reform in Washington following the Abramoff scandal, it comes as no surprise that little has happened.

In fact, things may be getting worse because, once again, the crooks have seemingly gotten away with it. If anything, they've become more emboldened by their latest escape from public scrutiny.

Case in point: the famed "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska is still on tap, despite reports to the contrary.

Last fall, after House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) earmarked $223 million to link the remote town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the more remote island of Gravina (population 50), the Bridge to Nowhere became a national symbol of congressional porkmania, lampooned by Leno, Letterman and Limbaugh. It was the most brazen of the record-breaking 6,300-plus earmarks inserted by individual members of Congress into the record-breaking $286 billion transportation bill.

Young, a 33-year House veteran, defiantly boasted that he had stuffed the bill "like a turkey." And Stevens, a 37-year senator, furiously threatened to resign if Congress shifted money from Gravina and another bridge to nowhere near Anchorage --- a bridge actually named Don Young's Way, near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. But the projects became such an embarrassment to Republicans that the chairmen agreed to withdraw both earmarks. Budget hawks, green activists and clean-government types hailed the defeat of the bridges as a victory for fiscal sanity.

Except that the bridges weren't defeated.

The Republican-controlled Congress still gave Alaska the $452 million it had requested for the two bridges, merely removing the earmark directing where the state should spend the money. Republican Gov. Frank H. Murkowski intends to spend that money on the bridges.

Republicans had their chance to eliminate government waste, and they failed miserably. Little doubt the Democrats will do likewise, but the GOP deserves to be punished for reneging on much of their "Contract with America."

Congress seems to have devolved into a policy-free zone, where pork not only greases the wheels of legislation, but is the very purpose of legislation. As former GOP Senate aide Winslow T. Wheeler detailed in his book "The Wastrels of Defense," Congress even turned its post-Sept. 11, 2001, military bills into receptacles for pork, including gyms, chapels, parking garages and museums. "What was once a predictable but part-time activity has become a full-time preoccupation that permeates Congress' activities and decision-making processes," Wheeler wrote.

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