- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

‘A monstrosity.” That’s what John McCain called the pork-laden $286 billion transportation bill President Bush signed into law on Wednesday. It’s hard to say he’s wrong, though many in Congress beg to differ.

Among the highlights, as Donald Lambro of The Washington Times pointed out yesterday: “Don Young’s Way,” a $230 million bridge in Alaska named for the lawmaker who chairs the House Transportation Committee; the “Highway to Nowhere,” an $18.75 million bridge connecting Ketchikan, Alaska, to the Island of Gravina, population 50; the “Magnetic Levitation Transportation System” connecting Las Vegas to Primm, Nev., for $20 million; $3 million for dust control along rural roads in Arkansas; $1.6 million for Connecticut’s Blue Ridge Music Center; $1 million for a pedestrian waterfront walkway in Oswego, N.Y. There are countless others tucked into the bill’s estimated 6,300 “earmarks,” which were inserted without debate. Of dubious value from a national perspective, the items are near and dear to the hearts of lawmakers and their constituencies. The rest of us pay for them.

Now as in the past, the money goes disproportionately to states whose lawmakers are pork kings presiding over thinly populated states. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, Alaska got nearly $1,000 in pork per capita in 2004, twice the next-highest recipients (Washington, D.C., and Hawaii, which were second and third with just under $500 per capita). California and Texas, the largest states, occupied the two bottom spots with $6 and $3 per capita, respectively. Florida and New York were also in the bottom 10.

The transportation bill mirrors those trends. Alaska, the third least populous state, got the fourth most earmarks. Stories of Robert Byrd’s roads to nowhere in West Virginia could soon be eclipsed by Don Young’s Alaska.

What to make of this? It’s easy and appropriate to blame a profligate Congress, but the administration is responsible, too. By now it’s well known that the bill thrice exceeded limits Mr. Bush purported to set. First the president threatened to veto any bill over $250 billion. Then he changed the limit to $270 billion. Finally, last month, the White House signaled it could live with a $284 billion bill — not that Congress paid much attention. The final bill exceeded that by $2 billion.

The president’s veto power remained unused through all this. That’s the “responsibility era” he promised.