August 5, 2007

Did Pork Pull Down The St. Anthony Bridge?

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.


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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... [Read More]

Comments (25)

Posted by Adjoran | August 5, 2007 9:58 AM

Of course equating the collapse with earmarks is a huge stretch. I suspect McCain was countering the claims that (low) spending/taxes contributed to the disaster.

As far as concerns Klobuchar and Oberstar, I can't see why they should be criticized. They are drooling morons, without doubt, but who the heck put them there?

Posted by Gary Gross | August 5, 2007 10:03 AM

Here in Minnesota, the DFL talked alot about building new roads & about LRT. What they didn't talk about was beefing up inspections & repairs.

No, Republicans can't be blamed for this because the DFL majority treated them like second class citizens from the opening gavel of this session to its chaotic end. Republicans had all they could do to simply sustain Gov. Pawlenty's vetoes.

All that said, I can't even say that the DFL should be blamed for the bridge's collapse, though I will say that the 'earmark mentality' must now get scrutinized like never before. Politicians taking credit for building fancy new bridges should be chastised. Politicians taking credit for making sure the needed repairs got done should be praised.

I suspect that that's what Sen. McCain was really trying to say. If that's what he tried to say, then I'd agree with him.

Posted by SkyWatch | August 5, 2007 10:07 AM

I kinda like his thought, any pork that gets added to a bill from here out goes to replacing a bridge or rail.

I know the kickbacks will be bad but at least we the people will get something from it.

Posted by edward cropper | August 5, 2007 10:26 AM

This disaster is everyone's fault. Citizens do not get involved with anything unless it is something that directly affects them.
Elected officials spend all their time after being elected trying to get re-elected.
Those elected are for the most part political hacks who have been party loyalists and are rewarded for their lap-dogging
without too much concern for their abilities.
County engineers are usually someone who has held that position for ever and designates
engineering duties to younger subordinates who do what younger subordinates do.
When something like this happens everyone starts screaming and pointing fingers, when if nothing had happened they would not have been any more involvement than before.
When voters start demanding accountability from their representatives before something happens then and only then will these
gravy train riders get off their lazy asses and do something .

Posted by Lew | August 5, 2007 10:28 AM

I can understand what Senator McCain is doing and why. After all is said and done, he's just another cliff climber searching for that next toe-hold on the rock face and this suddenly just jumped up in front of him. And the idea that we'd have plenty of money to pay more attention to bridge maintenance if we'd just stop our CongressCritters from using our tax money to buy our neighbors' votes, makes intuitive good sense. The fact that he conveniently leaves out however, is that we are the ones who enjoy this little money-laundering scheme. Its not inflicted on us by some cabal of mysterious conspirators. WE LIKE IT THIS WAY!!!

In a way, I'm pleasantly surprised that most of the actors on stage have reacted with at least a modicum of tasteful hesitancy in their mad dash to look good in front of the cameras. I may have been underestimating their humanity all these years. Who knew?

Posted by bulbasaur | August 5, 2007 10:37 AM

Can't it be a tragic accident?

I'm all for doing what we can to improve life, to cure disease, and so on. But I don't accept the necessity that every accident has a cause that must be fixed irrespective of the cost/benefit trade-offs. Seems to me America, in its great optimism, is always sidestepping the reality of pure, inexplicable tragedy.

Posted by Fight4TheRight | August 5, 2007 10:41 AM

Sorry but Off Topic here:

I just watched the "Republican Iowa Debate" on ABC - with George Stephanopoulis(sp?). First off, what a masterful job of conducting a fair and informative debate by George S.

My second observation is that, in my opinion, the majority of the Repub candidates have come a LONG WAY in their presentation of their positions. I thought that Guiliani, Romney, Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo all did extremely well. At the same time, I think John McCain regrouped here amazingly well. And the one person (that matters) that I left out is Duncan Hunter. Hunter I thought was amazingly confident, precise and communicated extremely well.

I defy anyone that watched this debate this morning to tell me that the pool of Leadership on that stage didn't tower over the leadership quality on the stage of the last Democratic debate.

I have not yet decided on my Presidential candidate yet and while I hoped the answer would be more clear after this debate - it is not. And that is a good thing. Because from what I saw, there are some great choices and competition, good strong competition, always yields the best choice.

Posted by S | August 5, 2007 10:42 AM

I would like to add,

Kickbacks is a big part of any construction project. You (me) the crew chief has to deal with city,county,state and federal inspecters. They each have to be massaged in their own way to make things able to go forward. They do nothing just give the O.K. for the workers to do their jobs. (That is not true the workers would cheat without them in order to get their paychecks). That is alot of people to grease tho and I worked in a non-union state (Texas). I can imagine a few more palms to slap in union ones.

Posted by laddy | August 5, 2007 10:49 AM

Just another example of McCain missing the point and pandering. The guy is terribly out of touch in my opinion and I can't see any reason to vote for him.

Posted by Don Singleton | August 5, 2007 10:57 AM

We saw after Katrina how money had been appropriated for strengthening the levees, and how that money was diverted into other projects. The 2005 transportation earmarks may not have diverted money, but is it not possible that at some point the bridge might have been scheduled for major reinforcing, just to have those funds earmarked away for other projects?

Posted by Robert Brown | August 5, 2007 11:09 AM

Can't it be a tragic accident?
I'm all for doing what we can to improve life, to cure disease, and so on. But I don't accept the necessity that every accident has a cause that must be fixed irrespective of the cost/benefit trade-offs. Seems to me America, in its great optimism, is always sidestepping the reality of pure, inexplicable tragedy.

To put this tragedy in perspective a bit. Bridges exist to serve automobile and truck traffic. That traffic kills in the order of forty thousand people year after year like clock work. It looks like our bridge failure killed about fifteen, but it could have been a hundred. Even at a hundred, bridge failure truly contributes a miniscule risk to auto travel compared to the miriad other risk factors.

Posted by Ray | August 5, 2007 11:42 AM

It doesn't surprise me that yet another politician has placed the blame on money and politics. In the world of politics, money equates power and the pursuit of power is the only industry where politicians have the greatest expertize. Faced with the unexpected in which their training and experience can not help them, they fall back on what they know best; money and the political power it bestows upon them.

Posted by SkyWatch | August 5, 2007 11:51 AM

What is wrong with you Republicans,

the infrastruture of road ways and rail plus waterways is one of the only things the federals should pay for (cept common defence eg..military).

Lets build/replace/upgrade our roads with new ones.

Posted by Fight4TheRight | August 5, 2007 12:53 PM


I'm confused. And hear I thought you folks on the Left wanted the federal government to also pay for:

social security
public assistance
food stamps
national health insurance
foot basins in public buildings
climate change initiatives
prescription drugs
school lunch programs
law enforcement

And all you really want are new roads and bridges?

Posted by Truck Driver | August 5, 2007 1:02 PM

There would be plenty of money available at both the federal and state levels if it wasn’t for the mismanagement of the taxes they get now.

I’m not thrilled about new taxes if the money went where it was supposed to go. State and Federal highway taxes go into the general fund and are used for anything and everything.

Even when highway and fuel taxes go toward highways it may not be for noise walls for the idiots that move next to an interstate or flowers along the roadside or something just as useful.

Posted by SkyWatch | August 5, 2007 1:37 PM

I think you have me confused with someone else.

Posted by Sourdough | August 5, 2007 3:24 PM

McCain may be stretching the point, but the main focus of his critism was congressional corruption and the screwing of the American taxpayer. As far as Im concerned he can sing that song 24/7 if it call the voters attention to the very real problem of that corruption and if he has to stretch a point, so be it. I dont get the impression that he was using Minnisotas dead to press the point. Im definitely not a McCain supporter but McCain said a lot of things that badly needed saying

Posted by SkyWatch | August 5, 2007 4:21 PM

O.K. maybe i would maybe vote for Newt/McCain tho I would kick myself later for trusting McCain.

Posted by Kirsten | August 5, 2007 7:46 PM

Pork may not have "caused" this tragedy in the sense that certain dollars in the pot didn't go for bridge repairs because they went for something else.

But I do think there's a relationship. Keeping our interstate infrastructure in good repair, and safe, ought to be one of the top priorities of our federal politicians (right alongside national defense). When they are putzing around, instead, with bogus projects set up to funnel money to their cronies, they aren't doing right by the American people.

It's not just the dollars, it's that pork projects are at odds with genuine stewardship.

Posted by Scrapiron | August 5, 2007 9:40 PM

The American people would be shocked to see where the money they pay out in Gas taxes goes, other than for roads and bridges. Politicians have used it for years to pay off their supporters. No one in their right mind is going to 'give' Shilllary Clinton millions of dollars without the knowledge they will get back 10 to 1. Killing people with pork now has a new meaning.

Posted by viking01 | August 6, 2007 12:56 AM

Having just returned from travel to the New Orleans area the earlier post by Don certainly is reflective of my observations of levees versus Katrina. Levees in the Conservative suburban Jefferson Parish managed to withstand the storm surge while just across the parish (same as county) line in eternally Democrat-run Orleans Parish (the city side) the levees failed catastrophically at 17th Street, London Ave. and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Ray-ning (sic) Mayor Potatohead of that city can't be blamed for all of it. His predecessors Marc Morial, Sydney Barthelemy, and Moon Landrieu plus their equally shady city councils must share that honor. The New Orleans clown-car of political leadership had about 40 years to create the levee disaster (then has tried to blame a variety of Washington culprits) while the parish next door spent its 40 years building and maintaining levees up to the challenge. The I-35W 's bridge eventual failure took about 40 years to achieve so that no doubt there are plenty of civic leaders in the Twin Cities. The same can be said for the Big Dig money pit which corrupt Boston politicians managed to create.

Point well taken about the gas taxes our states assess. No wonder that many states have prosecuted their state secretaries of transportation and secretaries of education when those weren't perpetually shielded by cronyism. Huge piles of revenue tend to attract pols seeking to maximize their , er, personal, cut of it.

Posted by Comtessa de Metoncula | August 6, 2007 2:41 AM

Mc Cain can talk. The biggest waste of money is that illegal War , based on deceptive information and that he still supports, which put the next three generations in debt and all this for the almighty Oil!
The the earmarks are just a drop in the bucket and part of the greater taxpayer's fleecing!

Posted by ray_g | August 6, 2007 6:35 PM

Anyone who tries to tie this bridge collapse to any current topic (such as Iraq, or any recent spending bill) is grandstanding. Long before 9/11, long before many of the current Congresscritters were elected, folks were warning that many bridges and the like in the U.S. were deteriorating and not being properly maintained. If I had to name a cause it would be the diverting of fuel tax money that was intended for infrastructure maintenance to other, non-transportation uses. Even if these other programs were not pork, were genuinely worthy of funding, it was wrong, unethical and perhaps illegal to take tax money that was collected for the express purpose of infrastructure maintenance and use it on other things. This has been going on for a long time, and is definitely bi-partisan. The blame rests with us, the voters and citizens who allow, and in many cases actively encourage, our elected officials to misuse these tax monies.

It is also possible that it had nothing to do with any of this, there are such things as freak accidents. In that case, I think the grandstanding is even more inappropriate.

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