- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

Americans from all walks of life wasted no time in the wake of Hurricane Katrina rallying to help those who survived. From Scout troops to the Salvation Army, they dug into their wallets and volunteered their time.

American businesses stepped forward with multi-million-dollar donations, as did numerous entertainers, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Celine Dion. Altogether, private contributions totaled more than $1.8 billion within the first seven weeks after Katrina struck.

That’s a lot of selfless giving. But there should be more — especially from our political leaders. Yes, lawmakers have approved more than $60 billion in disaster aid. But that’s taxpayer money and, given the existing federal deficit, borrowed money to boot. It’s time for members of Congress to embrace an idea that’s been attracting support nationwide and sacrifice some of their “own” resources to help the beleaguered citizens of the Gulf Coast.

This concept is simple: Lawmakers should “give up” some of the billions in frivolous pork projects designed to feather their political nests back home and redirect that money to help meet the far more pressing needs of Katrina’s victims.

The recently enacted highway bill was crammed with $25 billion in pork barrel spending. Surely Congress should have no problem shifting at least half that amount to legitimate rebuilding projects along the Gulf.

Mississippi and Louisiana must replace dozens of wrecked bridges. Concerned citizens in Alaska have been barraging local newspapers with letters decrying the two bridges (together costing more than $500 million) that Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, secured for his state. One will serve an island of only 50 people, who have made the trip to the mainland by ferry for years. It’s clear that many Alaskans are willing to keep taking the ferry for now so that the 500,000 people of New Orleans can have their roads and bridges restored. Will Mr. Young listen? Well … not yet, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stepped forward and offered half the earmarks she had gained for her district in San Francisco.

Yet although support for the giveback concept is spreading, the response from Congress has been mostly silence. A few members have angrily defended the spending and challenged the practicality of the giveback plan (Mr. Young calls it “moronic”), while others claim the $2.5 trillion federal budget contains no low-priority programs or wasteful spending.

Really? The fact is, the highway bill contained more than 6,000 earmarks, many so patently devoid of any compelling national purpose that the press publicly ridiculed them. But what seemed amusing then seems obscene today. Except for Mrs. Pelosi and a few junior Republican House members, most lawmakers have hidden behind a wall of silence, including Maryland and Virginia’s senators and representatives.

Their selfish reluctance is all the more surprising since the two states’ take contains the usual frivolities one finds in these bills. Maryland pulled in 104 earmarks worth $382 million, while Virginia grabbed 152 projects costing taxpayers $562 million. Among them are:

• Blue Ridge Music Center.

• High Knob Horse Trail.

• Watermill preservation at White’s Mill.

• New visitor center at Assateague Island.

• Parking garage at Coppin State.

• Edgewood train station streetscaping.

None of these earmarks are critical to either state, and all of them could be delayed for several years to rebuild the ravaged infrastructure of the Gulf States.

Today, people walking the streets of post-September 11 New York City can notice something different about the police cars. Many of these vehicles (including a fire truck that, appropriately enough, Louisiana donated to New York after September 11) bear a message that they were provided to the NYPD by the citizens of another American town, a town duly identified on the patrol car by the Big Apple’s thankful citizens.

If lawmakers act with wisdom and charity in the weeks ahead, one day those driving to the Big Easy may feel a burst of communal well-being as they read the bronze plaque on the new bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain: “Proudly Provided by the People of Virginia and Maryland.”

Ronald D. Utt is a senior research fellow in economic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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