Guest opinion by GREG MOORE
Greg Moore is a reporter with the Idaho Mountain Express
Where was our president when we needed him?
Last week, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, a six-year, $286 billion national highway construction bill. The bill contains $24 billion added by individual members of Congress for 6,371 specified projects in their own states and districts. It's questionable whether many of those projects are in the national interest.
"This bill is by far the most expensive, wasteful highway bill in the nation's history," commented Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Alaska, the third least populated state, got the fourth most money in "earmarked" spending. It's also the home of Rep. Don Young, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Those of us paying the 18-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax will fork over $223 million to build a bridge from Ketchikan to an island inhabited by 50 people. We will also fund a $231-million bridge from Anchorage to an uninhabited point of land, to be named "Don Young's Way." Perhaps "Don Young's Greedy and Irresponsible Way" would be more appropriate.
Idaho will receive "only" $158 million in earmarked funds, placing it fourth from the bottom. But in press releases on the subject, members of Idaho's congressional delegation—all avowed fiscal conservatives—crowed about their effectiveness in procuring money for their state. They said nothing about doing Idaho's part to reduce the federal deficit or lower gas prices.
I suppose one cannot expect politicians to place the national interest above their local re-election prospects. That's where we depend on the president. In that regard, George Bush has failed us. He has yet to veto a single bill.
Bush defended his support for the highway bill by saying it would provide jobs. But when he pushed for a tax cut in 2001, he told us the economy would benefit, and tax revenues rise, by returning that money to the private sector. So, Mr. Bush, which is it? Does government spending create jobs or destroy them?
Also last week, Bush signed—in the words of Taxpayers for Common Sense—"a bloated $85 billion energy bill that is packed with subsidies and tax breaks to big energy companies making billion-dollar profits."
By allowing blatant pork-barrel spending and giving tax breaks to those who don't need them, Bush's actions belie a promise in his State of the Union address to cut the national deficit in half during his second term.
At least when the "tax-and-spend" Democrats were in power, they made some effort to fund their projects. With their lavish spending and tax cuts, the "borrow-and-spend" Republicans appear content to pass the bill on to the next generation.
"If you look at fiscal conservatism these days, it's in a sorry state," Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told the Washington Post last week. "Republicans don't even pretend anymore."
Conservatives ought to be furious.