The far-away, now-abandoned Bridge to Nowhere lately has taken center stage in the race for the White House. For an unbuilt span that never actually connected two cold spots, it certainly is generating plenty of heat.
"The McCain campaign continues to repeat the lie that Sarah Palin stopped the Bridge to Nowhere," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton told the Associated Press Monday.
"The only people 'lying' about spending are the Obama campaign," McCain-Palin spokesman Brian Rogers shot back. "The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they're afraid that when and are in the White House, 's nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks," he added, referring to the 330 federally funded projects worth $931.3 million that Obama has requested since joining the Senate in January 2005.
Crossfire aside, who is right here? And are Barack Obama and fighting this issue with clean hands?
The GOP ticket's detractors cite a statement Gov. Palin made on September 21, 2007: "Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329-million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island."
As TalkingPointMemo.com adds: "She shut it down after it became clear that Congress would no longer fund it."
While noting her early support for the Bridge while a gubernatorial candidate, the Republican vice-presidential nominee's critics seem to forget statements she made against it while governor long before "Palin officially killed the project" as PolitiFact.com puts it.
While running for chief executive, Palin backed the bridge, although with little evident enthusiasm. "The money that's been appropriated for the project," she told Ketchikan voters in September 2006, "it should remain available for a link, an access process as we continue to evaluate the scope and just how best to just get this done."
Palin could have fought for the bridge as governor, as did her spendthrift GOP predecessor, Frank Murkowski (whom she jettisoned in a primary). Murkowski recommended dedicating $195 million in the state budget for the bridge. Instead, Palin gave it $0.
"Palin's budget doesn't include money for mega projects that she supported as a candidate, such as the controversial Gravina Island bridge in Ketchikan," Kyle Hopkins wrote in the December 16, 2006 Anchorage Daily News. "Palin said she will hash out where the bridge fits on the state's list of priorities with the help of the Legislature and public. 'We have a limited pot of money, of course, and we need to make wise, sensible choices,' she said."
In a February 2007 report on infrastructure priorities, Palin's transition team opposed the Bridge, plus a road in Juneau. "Statewide, these two projects are seen as a severe drain on resources that would otherwise be assigned to heavily used commercial and passenger routes," the study concluded.
Alaska's Senate approved $1.6 billion in capital items on May 11, 2007. True to Palin's wishes, the spending plan provided no money for the Bridge to Nowhere.
On September 21, 2007, Palin finally stated, "'Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer."
Palin's early, tepid support for the bridge, followed by her open hostility to it as governor did not please the state's GOP political establishment.
As Amy Goldstein and Michael D. Shear observed in the August 30 Washington Post, Palin "has angered two of Alaska's leading Republicans - Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young - by refusing to support their decades-long practice of securing federal money for the state, including Young's effort to obtain $233 million for a structure dubbed the 'Bridge to Nowhere' by critics because it would have connected a small town with an island populated with 50 people. In her short time in state office, she has repeatedly thwarted Stevens's and Young's interests and, at times, challenged their candidates - including their children."
While it may be unfair to say that Sarah Palin always treated the Bridge as Milton Friedman might have, she quickly grasped the project's folly and ultimately put it out of the nation's misery. In a country where politicians endlessly make demands until weary taxpayers capitulate, Palin scrapped the bridge soon after she was empowered to do so.
Obama and Biden's moaning about all of this would be far easier to stomach if they, too, opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Not so.
Obama and Biden had an excellent opportunity to do the right thing. Just seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) proposed to transfer $125 million from the notorious Bridge's budget and instead devote it to rebuilding the Interstate 10 Twin Spans Bridge between New Orleans and St. Tammany's Parish. The storm chopped up the bridge.
"We have the largest natural catastrophe we have ever seen in our history," Coburn said on the Senate floor on October 20, 2005. "It is time we reassess the priorities we utilize in this body as we think about our obligations at home."
Coburn's amendment failed 15-82. Obama and Biden were among the "nays." They and 80 other senators preferred to protect the earmarking tradition than to assist Katrina's tempest-tossed citizens.
Obama and Biden put pork first and people second. While the residents of New Orleans and southern Louisiana endured perhaps their greatest challenge since the Civil War, Obama and Biden both turned their backs on these embattled Americans.
Katrina demolished much of the city of Slidell, home to Nan Eitel, a formerly New Orleans-based attorney who relocated with her family to Washington, D.C. after the storm. The Twin Spans Bridge was "the route I used to take to work every day," she recalls by phone. When Eitel learned Monday that Obama and Biden helped junk Coburn's plan to rebuild the bridge she traveled every weekday morning and evening for 14 years, she says, "I was stunned. That bridge is critical to the economy of the greater New Orleans region." She explains that it connected Slidell's bedroom community with downtown New Orleans. She says it served "many people who worked in the oil and gas industry and the Michoud, Louisiana facility where the Space Shuttle's rockets are built."
Eitel says that Obama and Biden's votes "showed a tremendous lack of understanding for that community and the bridge's importance to the reconstruction effort." While other routes connected New Orleans to the north and west, the ruined Twin Spans Bridge left it isolated from points east. "Without the bridge, you couldn't get the city rebuilt," Eitel says. "Without it, you could not bring in building supplies. Without it you could not truck in the water and food that people needed."
The Twin Spans Bridge is being rebuilt, though without the help that Coburn tried to provide and Obama and Biden helped block.
"Sarah Palin stood up to the biggest porkers in her state when she refused to spend taxpayer dollars on the Bridge to Nowhere," the Club for Growth said in a statement yesterday. "Some in the media have claimed that Congress killed the Bridge first. This is not true. Congress removed the requirement to fund the bridge, leaving the choice up to the state. Once given the choice, Palin refused to spend taxpayer dollars on the wasteful Bridge to Nowhere. Standing up to Ted Stevens and Don Young in Alaska is nothing to sneeze at. Clearly, Barack Obama didn't have the same courage in 2005."
"While Barack Obama attacks Sarah Palin, we still have not heard him disavow his 2005 vote in favor of the Bridge to Nowhere and admit his mistake," said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. "Sarah Palin deserves credit for recognizing how harmful and corrupt the pork process has become. Barack Obama has had three years to come to the same realization, and we're still waiting. We call on Senator Obama to disavow his 2005 vote in favor of the Bridge to Nowhere."
It may be too much to expect Obama and Biden to apologize for embracing an extravagance for 50 Alaskans over a necessity for some 500,000 New Orleanians. However, it would be nice if Democrats stopped attacking Palin who finally buried a boondoggle that Obama and Biden valued more than they did the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
By Deroy Murdock
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online