Column: From man to pig

By Eric Naing

In one corner, you have the construction of two practically useless bridges in Alaska that will cost taxpayers a half-billion dollars. In the other corner, you have the state of Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina; the reconstruction of the state could cost an already cash-strapped United States government several hundred billion dollars. You would think the latter was more important than the former, but apparently Congress does not.

The infamous bridges would connect the Alaskan town of Gravina (population: 50) to the town of Ketchikan (population: 8,000) and Anchorage to Port Mackenzie (population: 1). The two bridges will cost $223 million and $231 million, respectively. Even Alaskan residents are disgusted.

Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee, managed to get this money through the recently passed Transportation Equity Act. This bill, along with the recently passed energy bill, doles out hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to special interests and local pork projects. Adorably, the Anchorage-Port Mackenzie bridge will be called Don Young Way.

Pork spending is nothing new, and in fact is actually directly tied to our form of representative government. On paper, it sounds good; a local congressman or woman should try and bring money and jobs to their constituents. But all too often they put the welfare of their own districts above the welfare of the nation. For example, the transportation bill spends $1,500 per person in Alaska while spending only $86 per person nationwide – despite the fact that Alaska has the third lowest population of any state.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., heroically introduced a bill that would divert the $454 billion Alaskan bridge money toward the reconstruction of New Orleans. Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of Mr. Coburn. The man is infamous for being sued after sterilizing a young woman without her consent back in his doctor days, his foaming rants about the evil “gay agenda” and even attempting to stop NBC from airing Schindler’s List.

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    But props must be given when props are due. Pork-barrel spending is the bread and butter of any senator, and Mr. Coburn was willing to say no for the good of the country.

    Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass the Senate by the vote of 15-82. The reason why so many senators voted against the bill was that if it passed, pork spending in their own states would be at risk. Way to put the priorities of 51 Alaskans above the thousands of people whose lives were destroyed by Katrina.

    This is only one of many examples to show that our government has absolutely no fiscal responsibility. The Republicans, who have been in control of both Congress and the Presidency since 2000, are responsible for the largest expansion of government and the largest growth of pork spending in United States history. Any notions that the GOP is the party of responsibility and small government have long been dead and buried. When asked if the government could afford the billions in Katrina relief, now-indicted Republican Congressman Ton DeLay said no, and that “after 11 years of Republican majority, we’ve pared (government spending) down pretty good,” completely ignoring the out-of-control government spending.

    But democrats, too, deserve much blame. To her credit, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California offered to give up $70 million designated for transportation spending in San Francisco toward Katrina relief. Regrettably, few other democrats followed suit. Pushing through the Coburn amendment would have been a perfect way for the Democratic Party to take a stand against the outrageous spending of this Republican administration, and they looked the other way. No wonder the people, who continually give Republicans anemic poll numbers, refuse to accept the Democrats as a credible alternative. Good luck in 2006, guys.

    In a time where the national debt is over $8 trillion and reconstruction operations in the Gulf Coast, Iraq and Afghanistan cost us untold billions, our leaders continue to cling to their pork barrels. It makes one long for the days of Ross Perot and his ranting on cutting down government spending.

    Eric Naing is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Monday. He can be reached at [email protected].