Scant re­sources

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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