The highway bill seemed like such a good idea when it sailed through Congress this summer. But now Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer's remorse.I'm not optimistic about any turn-around, but
The $286 billion legislation was stuffed with 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers' districts, including what critics denounce as a $223 million "Bridge to Nowhere" that would replace a 7-minute ferry ride in a sparsely populated area of Alaska. Usually members of Congress cannot wait to rush home and brag about such bounty -- a staggering number of parking lots, bus depots, bike paths and new interchanges for just about every congressional district in the country that added $24 billion to the overall cost of maintaining the nation's highways and bridges in the coming years.
The Senate has already considered one proposal to scale back the legislation -- an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to cut funding for some of the projects special-ordered by Alaskan lawmakers and use the money saved to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain outside New Orleans. The I-10 bridge, a major transportation corridor, was shattered during the Katrina storm surge.
Coburn's bid failed, but it gained widespread attention and attracted 15 Senate "yes" votes, a landslide, considering the political clout of Stevens, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a formidable force in Congress. In a display of outrage, Stevens threatened to resign from the Senate if Coburn's measure succeeded.
The Club for Growth, a conservative group that funds like-minded candidates for Congress, has turned the highway legislation into a bumper sticker for the GOP's fiscal failings. "Too many Congressional Republicans have veered away from the limited government agenda that got them elected to the majority in Congress. They have approved pork-barrel highway bills worse than the Democrats used to give us," says one appeal to supporters.