- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

President Bush yesterday signed a $286 billion transportation bill that taxpayer groups derided as bloated with pork, but the White House said it could have been $100 billion worse.

“This bill is going to help modernize the highway system and improve quality of life for a lot of people,” Mr. Bush said at a signing ceremony in Illinois. “The bill I’m signing is going to help give hundreds of thousands of Americans good-paying jobs.”

That’s because the bill is loaded with unnecessary pork projects that were added by influential lawmakers, said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“This bill is by far the most expensive, wasteful highway bill in the nation’s history,” he said. “It is filled to the brim with 6,371 projects at a cost of $24 billion for almost every congressional district in the country.”

White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy defended the president for not vetoing the bill.

“It’s not much more expensive than he originally intended,” Mr. Duffy told reporters aboard Air Force One. “In fact, it’s close to $100 billion less than where it originally started.

“If you recall, in the House it was close to $380, $390, almost $400 billion,” he added. “It’s now $286 billion. This is a balanced transportation bill that funds our infrastructure needs while not breaking the bank.”

Mr. Bush signed the bill in the congressional district of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, whose state will benefit more than most from the legislation. The signing took place in a Caterpillar plant in Montgomery, Ill., near a high school that Mr. Hastert once attended.

“It is only fitting,” Mr. Ashdown said, “that the president signed this legislation in Speaker Dennis Hastert’s district, because the speaker secured the third-highest amount of highway pork in the nation.”

Also successful in bringing federal funding to his district was Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Although Alaska is the third-least populous state, it will receive the fourth-most funding.

Mr. Young, the state’s only House member, secured $941 million for Alaska, including $231 million for a bridge that will be named “Don Young’s Way.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas also helped garner $630 million for California, more than half of which will be spent on a highway in Bakersfield. The powerful Republican was one of more than a dozen lawmakers who joined Mr. Bush for yesterday’s ceremony.

Absent from yesterday’s ceremony was Sen. John McCain, one of four senators who voted against the transportation bill. When it passed, the Arizona Republican lamented its pork projects as “egregious and remarkable.”

He was particularly mortified by $2.3 million for landscaping of a California freeway named after former President Ronald Reagan, an opponent of big government spending.

“I wonder what Ronald Reagan would say,” Mr. McCain said.

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