Pork and Water

At last, Congress is showing some backbone. For the first time, both the House and the Senate have voted to override a Bush veto, with Democrats and some Republicans joining forces to push through a key water bill despite warnings from the White House that the legislation “lacks fiscal discipline”.

At stake was the long-overdue Water Resources Development Act, which assigns the Army Corps of Engineers a laundry-list of water-related construction jobs across the country. It’s been seven years since the last water bill, and a swathe of important projects were hanging in the balance.

In the Everglades, where the River of Grass is running dangerously dry, the legislation will fund an ambitious re-plumbing effort; along the Louisiana coastline, post-Katrina restoration and key hurricane-protection measures will get a boost; along the Mississippi, ecosystems will be repaired and heavily silted waterways will finally be cleared. Along with dozens of other worthy projects, the bill also promises much-needed oversight for the Army Corps, mandating independent reviews of all major work and giving states the right to demand investigations of controversial construction jobs.

Even so, the bill drew sharp criticism from conservatives angered that the bottom line had swollen from $14 billion to $23 billion since it was first passed by the Senate in May. The National Review’s David Freddoso noted that the inflation “sounds like a wildly successful hedge fund’s return, not the growth of a bill that authorizes spending for the federal government.”

Greens say that sniffing about fiscal responsibility rings hollow; Bush may not favor spending money on water projects, but he has no problem running a deficit to fund the spiraling cost of the Iraq war. The right fails to mention, too, that the water bill only authorizes funds, rather than actually appropriating them: Each new project will still need specific approval before a dime gets spent.

Still, Freddoso and his pals have a point: The water bill is packed with earmarks and last-minute additions, funding pet projects as well as worthy environmental programs. There’s no denying that the sheer amount of federal cash on offer helped generate bipartisan momentum against Bush’s veto, with both Republicans and Democrats jostling for a place at the trough.

That shouldn’t detract from greens’ jubilance at the passage of this necessary piece of legislation. It’s a pity, though, that so many lawmakers only seem able to muster enthusiasm for environmental issues when there’s pork on the line.


Who publishes earmarks and ther sponsers? I would like to see them.

Who publishes earmarks and their sponsers? Think they would make for interesting reading.