SEN. Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, threatened to resign the other day if his fellow lawmakers diverted money from one of his pork-barrel projects - the fabled "bridge to nowhere" - to help rebuild Gulf Coast infrastructure wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
Too bad the Senate didn't have the collective chitlins to take him up on his offer.
The proposal came from Sen. Tom Coburn, a freshman Republican from Oklahoma, who suggested, quite logically, we think, that funds from the recently enacted $286 billion federal transportation bill be redirected to meet emergency needs for roads and bridges in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama that were swept away by Katrina.
Specifically, the target was $223 million earmarked for a mile-long span connecting Ketchikan, a city of less than 8,000 people in Alaska's panhandle, to an island that has 50 residents and an airport with fewer than 10 flights each day.
Its critics refer to the project as "the bridge to nowhere."
But the idea prompted a desk-pounding rebuttal from Senator Stevens, 83, who threatened not only to resign but to become "a wounded bull on the floor of this Senate," and vowed to be "taken out of here on a stretcher" if the amendment passed.
Unfortunately, the six-term lawmaker's weak-kneed colleagues succumbed to the rant and the measure was killed on an 82 to 15 vote. It would have no doubt been entertaining to see Senator Stevens make good on his threats.
Actually, the Senate surrender was predictable, if only because virtually every member of Congress has at least one earmarked project among 6,371 in the transportation bill. But it serves to illustrate once again how sacrosanct the pork-barrel process has become in Washington.
Lawmakers talk fiscal responsibility but when a home-state project is threatened, any sense of responsibility to the welfare of the country as a whole flies out the window.
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