COLUMN: The road to nowhere leads to … Alaska?

Michael McLaughlin

While the vaguely annoying commercials one sees from time to time would claim it’s the other white meat, in political speak, pork refers to the various projects which are doled out to various parts of the country like candy during Halloween.

Generally, most of these are actually essential or at least useful programs, for example, Head Smart, but every now and then, some town in Idaho gets a surprisingly large museum because Idaho’s two senators want to get as much money for their state as California’s senators. This desire is rather petty, but understandable. After all, Idaho’s senators need to look out for Idaho – that’s their job. And, of course, California’s senators go along with this because they might eventually need Idaho’s senators’ support on some pet project of theirs. It’s an old fashioned case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

However, in this year’s appropriations bill, there was one item that was such a transparent grab for governmental beneficence that most inside the Beltway were embarrassed. This action was the allocation of $230 million for the construction of a bridge in Alaska to, well, nowhere. OK, the bridge goes to Gravina Island with a population of 50 people, but seriously, a bridge connecting a town of 8,500 to an island with 50 people? That expenditure comes out to around $27,000 per resident who might feasibly use the bridge, and that’s ignoring that there is already a ferry service set up to take everyone to and from Gravina.

Not surprisingly, the main reason why Alaska received this large amount of money is that Ted Stevens, the state’s senior senator, is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and the state’s lone congressman, Don Young, is the chairman of the Transportation Committee. To be honest, I can’t really blame Stevens and Young for trying to get every dollar possible for Alaska. However, I can blame Congress for letting them get away with actually acquiring $230 million for a frigging bridge.

Senator Tom Coburn, whom I generally tend to think is just a bit on the quirkily right-wing side, made an attempt to actually shame the rest of Congress into going back on this hand-out. He proposed an amendment that would cancel the construction of the Gravina bridge and was in favor of putting the money towards the reconstruction of I-10 in New Orleans, trying to get them to remember that there are better ways to spend $230 million. This action actually outraged Stevens enough to threaten to resign if the amendment was adopted.

I wish I could say that my party seized the opportunity to contrast themselves from an increasingly out-of-touch and arrogant GOP majority and portray themselves as the defenders of fiscal responsibility and responsible government. Instead, only four Democrats, along with 11 Republicans, voted for stripping the bridge of its funding, preserving the pork system from its latest challenge.

If we end up failing to take back the majority in both houses of Congress in what is looking more and more like a Democratic version of 1994, we can point to this vote as an important reason why.

Michael McLaughlin is a senior history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].