Last week’s veto override by Congress on a water-projects spending bill will allow $23 billion in unfunded mandates, codifying a pork-laden plan that, for the most part, will not come to fruition. Ironically, these members of Congress who have given overwhelming approval of the bill and are poised to overthrow President Bush’s veto are highly unlikely to actually set aside real funding for the bill when it comes time to parcel out appropriations.
Congress gave landslide approval for this bill (81-12 in the Senate and 381-40 in the House) to grant the $23 billion for some 900 projects by the Army Corps of Engineers and yet they failed to back up the mandates with actual funding. This makes the political theater all the more an empty charade, with Mr. Bush finally chastising Congress for its lack of fiscal restraint and members of his own party lampooning his efforts.
The Water Resources Development Act adds to the backlog of mandates the corps will ostensibly be handling — $38 billion by Mr. Bush’s count and $58 billion by Taxpayers for Common Sense. It is puzzling that Congress would continue to add to this burden when historically Congress allocates a mere $2 billion per year for new corps construction projects. It seems most members relish the opportunity to send out a crowing press release in their home district about a hard-fought earmark that has fat chance of ever improving the qual- ity of life for their constituents.
The bill lacks the prioritization needed to ensure vital projects are completed first. However, this is not new — pork projects continue to dilute the corps’ spending power as it spreads itself too thin. This was apparent in Louisiana, a state that by far has enjoyed the most in corps appropriations (some $1.9 billion in the last five years to second-place California’s $1.4 billion). Yet, rather than placing high priority on projects like the levees prior to Hurricane Katrina, funding instead went to an unjustifiable navigation canal lock project and the lowtrafficked J. Bennett Johnston Waterway.
An odd set of bedfellows have urged oversight and belt-tightening on the water projects, from Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, to the earmark watchdog Republicans Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. While their logical stance will be dismissed, the consolation is most of the projects in this earmark-laden bill won’t see the light of day.