John McCain blamed Congress and the pork in the 2005 transportation bill for the collapse of the I-35W bridge here in Minneapolis. He spoke to a crowd in Ankeny, Iowa, about his anger over the lost opportunity for pork-barrel reform in the ethics bill that just passed, and used the tragedy as an example of potential real-world consequences:
Republican John McCain said Saturday that Congress could share in the blame for the Minnesota bridge collapse because lawmakers diverted billions of dollars in transportation money from road work to pet projects.
"I think perhaps you can make the argument that part of the responsibility lies with the Congress of the United States," the Arizona senator said.
McCain said Congress spent roughly $20 billion on special-interest projects when it approved a new highway bill, signed into law by President Bush.
"We spent approximately $20 billion of that money on pork barrel, earmark projects," said McCain. "Maybe if we had done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country. Maybe the 200,000 people who cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it."
Well, I hate pork as much as anyone else, but I'm a little perplexed by this statement. Even without the pork, Minnesota got a 46% increase in transportation funds from that bill. That amounted to a $1.1 billion windfall over five years -- certainly plenty of money to conduct inspections. In fact, as I've noted before, we could have replaced that bridge almost three full times with that increase.
Also, the bridge just got inspected in May, less than three months before its collapse. No one skipped inspecting the bridge, and pork barrel projects didn't interfere with the inspection schedule. There is no correlation between earmarking and this particular collapse. While it makes a rather stinging rebuttal to those who claim that a lack of tax increases caused the collapse, neither actually is true and neither advances our efforts to find the truth.
Just as I criticized Amy Klobuchar and James Oberstar for exploiting the tragedy for their political hobby horses, we need to ask Senator McCain to have a care how he uses the dead in our community. I fully support his efforts to end earmarks and push towards legislative reform, but let's stick to the real consequences of earmark abuse. Those consequences are bad enough -- elected representatives selling out the American taxpayer to pad their own bank accounts and protect their incumbencies, while dragging more and more of our treasure out of our homes and businesses to fuel their thirst for power. (via Instapundit)
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers. For more of my posts on the bridge collapse, you can go to the category I created for the topic.