- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

The public’s approval of the way the Republican-controlled Congress is doing its job just plunged 11 points in the last month, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Only 22 percent approve. Given that Republicans received 49.2 percent of the popular vote for the House of Representatives in 2004, that suggests that a rather large majority of people who voted for Republican candidates now disapprove of the way the Republican-controlled Congress is doing its job. Talk about an incentive to stay home in November. Moreover, a plurality (45-39) said the preferred Democratic control of the next Congress. That’s virtually identical to the advantage Republicans enjoyed (44-38) one month before the 1994 elections, when the GOP gained 52 seats in the House and captured control of both chambers of Congress.

Yes, much of this dissatisfaction is related to gas prices and the war in Iraq, about which the Republican Congress can do next to nothing to affect the short-term, including the time before election day. In addition, the Senate’s handling of illegal immigration no doubt alienates a large bloc of the Republican base. But when asked in the Journal/NBC poll to select a single issue that they felt is “most important for Congress to act on before it leaves Washington” for its pre-election recess, nearly two out of five prospective voters, a significantly large plurality, wanted action “prohibiting members of Congress from directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents.” By comparison, 39 percent wanted Congress to eliminate this earmarked spending, 32 percent identified immigration reform; 10 percent wanted Congress to extend tax cuts before recess; 8 percent selected pension reform; and 2 percent volunteered another issue.

It should be clear, especially regarding the Republican base, that conservative voters have had it with Republicans going AWOL on spending. The Republican rank-and-file in the red states, like 99 percent of Beltway inhabitants, may not understand all the arcane rules of parliamentary procedure, but as Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence told The Washington Times recently, “everybody understands the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’” One of thousands of earmarks tucked into the infamous highway bill in the dead of night last year, the “Bridge to Nowhere” would link Ketchican, Alaska, to a nearby island (population 50) at a cost of $223 million (or $4.5 million per island inhabitant).

Now Mississippi Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran have earmarked a $700 million “Railroad to Nowhere” in the emergency supplemental bill that the White House requested to fund Katrina-related cleanup and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In order to better serve Mississippi’s gambling casinos, their project would use $700 million in taxpayer money to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line, which its owner, the CSX Corp., had already spent hundreds of millions of dollars repairing after Katrina. Although probably the most notorious item in the emergency spending bill, the “Railroad to Nowhere” represents only 5 percent of the extra $14 billion in pork that the Senate has added to the president’s $92 billion request. The House’s version met the president’s target.

Even though he will not be on the ballot in November, President Bush should do his party and himself a big favor by making good on his recent promise to veto the emergency spending bill if it exceeds $95 billion.

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