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Coburn On Palin And The Bridge To Nowhere

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who hollered earliest and loudest about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” says that he spoke with Gov. Sarah Palin as the controversy was unfolding and she told him “that she was going to kill it because she thought it was wasteful.” Coburn also said that she had been an early supporter of the earmark before turning against it.

Palin has been hammered by Democrats and media outlets for repeatedly claiming that she “told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on the Bridge to Nowhere.”

Palin supported federal funding for the bridge in a 2006 interview with a local paper when she was running for governor. “I don’t fault her. If you’re a governor, you want all the money you can [get] for your state,” said Coburn, a supporter of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “And can you imagine a governor telling [Alaska Republican Sen.] Ted Stevens what he will or won’t do?” Stevens was a vocal supporter of the earmark. He has since been indicted for not reporting gifts he received.

Once the bridge became a symbol of wasteful spending, Stevens compromised. Alaska still received the money, but could decide whether to use it for the bridge or other projects. Palin chose the latter. In September 2007, she gave up on the bridge, releasing a statement saying that "[d]espite 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.” 

“The fact is that Sarah Palin is one of the few governors that actually got religion on this and said, ‘Hey, this is stupid. This is killing us,'" said Coburn. “Here’s the point to take away: The ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ in Alaska got killed because of Sarah Palin.”

McCain was a cosponsor of an amendment that Coburn tried to push through that would have moved the money from Alaska to Louisiana to repair the I-10 freeway damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) opposed that amendment. Biden and Obama, said Coburn, “voted for [the bridge earmark] every time it came up because they played the game on earmarks. Remember what the appropriators said: ‘If you don’t vote for this, your earmarks are next. We’ll come after your earmarks.’ That was the veiled threat.”

The Obama camp has continued to hit Palin for her initial support of the bridge. “On the same day that dozens of news organizations have exposed Governor Palin’s phony Bridge to Nowhere claim as a ‘naked lie,’ she and John McCain continue to repeat the claim in their stump speeches. Maybe tomorrow she’ll tell us she sold it on eBay,” said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor in a statement.