Monday, August 08, 2005

World-Herald Targets Nelson AGAIN

by Kyle Michaelis
This isn't the first time and it surely isn't the last, but it continues to dismay this reader that the World-Herald persists in singling-out Sen. Ben Nelson, the lone Democrat in Nebraska's Washington delegation, taking every opportunity to cast him in a negative light while his Republican counterparts get a free pass for the exact same practices.

There is a gross double-standard at work, and the World-Herald's recent focus on funding for a downtown Omaha garage Nelson secured in the unprecedentedly free-spending Transportation Bill passed by Congress last week is only its latest example. Read for yourself from their Thursday editorial entitled "Pork Is As Pork Does":
How interesting it was to read the defense by U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's office for its role in securing federal funds to build a parking garage at Creighton University.

The garage and accompanying public safety center will help revitalize the neighborhood of 24th and Burt Streets, a Nelson aide said. It will improve traffic safety in the area of the university and help motorists get around to other nearby destinations, including Qwest Center Omaha.

The garage also will be a "compensation" to Creighton for parking spaces lost through street improvements in the area, the aide said.

True, all true. But these comments don't explain the logic behind federal funding, perhaps because no such logic exists.

This is not to criticize Nelson for securing the funds nor Creighton for accepting them.

But let's just call it what it is.

The maneuvering to pass the federal highway bill was described by the Wall Street Journal as a historic spending spree as members of the House and Senate added thousands of personal requests.

All told, the $286.4 billion highway bill exceeded President Bush's veto limit by $2.4 billion....

Such historically useful terms as "pork barrel" and "log-rolling" almost lose their meaning in light of the way the game is played today. This is not about the care of federal facilities and the carrying out of federal responsibilities but, rather, constitutes a raiding of the Treasury for the purpose of bringing extra goodies home.

It's all by mutual consent. So long as I get mine, you can have yours....Let's not struggle too hard to find a substitute term for pork. And let's remember this the next time our elected officials complain about deficit spending.

A little honesty in these matters might help keep the situation from getting too far out of touch with reality.

How cute of the World-Herald to say they're not criticizing Nelson while using the full force of their editorial to associate him with government waste. Where's the mention that Omaha's Republican Congressman Lee Terry and former Gov. Mike Johanns also supported this spending? In despicable fashion, they target a Democratic Senator, as if the blame for this over-whelmingly Republican Congress' fiscal insanity belongs on his shoulders. How reprehensible.

The Lincoln Journal-Star took a much more even-keeled approach noting Congress' irresponsibility, writing:
Nebraska's congressional delegation — especially Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a former Lincoln City Council member following up on the previous efforts of his predecessor, Rep. Doug Bereuter, and Sens. Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel — were helpful in making sure Lincoln and Nebraska received a fair share of funds from a process that is dismayingly flawed.

In Lincoln, the Antelope Creek project was awarded $24 million. The money will be used for the Big T overpass south of the Devaney Center and for ramps and roads leading east and south.

Another $10.2 million was awarded for Lincoln's south and west beltways; $3 million was designated for widening Interstate 80 to three lanes between Interstate 180 and the 56th Street interchange; $500,000 was designated for the east beltway.

In all, the bill will provide $1.4 billion to Nebraska, an increase in federal highway funds of about 30 percent.

Unfortunately, the process used by Congress to dole out the money is so loosey-goosey that it's hard to imagine any attention at all was paid to the individual merit of projects.

Odd little provisions, such as a tax break for manufacturers of fly fishing rods, are tucked away in its pages.

The number of special projects, or earmarks designated by individual members, continues to eat up an increasing proportion of the overall bill. In 1982 there were only 10 special projects, according to the Cato Institute.

The number has zoomed steadily upward to 538 in 1991, 1,850 in 1998 to an amazing 6,371 in the bill approved last week.

"This bill will be known as the most earmarked transportation bill in the history of our nation," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Rep. Don Young of Alaska is well positioned as chairman of the House Transportation Committee to funnel money to his home state. But at what point does inequity become intolerable? Sen. John McCain pointed out that Alaska receives almost 500 percent more money than it pays in to the highway trust fund. That return will rise to 530 percent in 2009, McCain said.

Money going to Alaska includes $223 million for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, with a population of 50. The bridge will replace a seven-minute ferry ride.

By comparison, the $24 million for the Antelope Valley Project almost looks tiny. At least it will be put to good use.

Need it even be said that Don Young is a Republican or that the ridiculous rise in vote-driven ear-marking of funds has occurred with the Republican Party in power. Conservatives my foot. Republican Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert also has more than $200 million coming into his Illinois district. Compare that with the $11.2 million that this seemingly quite advantageous Creighton garage will receive.

At least, the Journal-Star does not engage in so sickeningly partisan an attack by picking one elected representative - a Democrat, of course - to take the fall for the failings of an entire system. It's time the World-Herald be put on notice that their fanciful guilt-by-association tactics will no longer be tolerated. Such writing is careless and far too convenient given their partisan bent not to call it for what it is - deception.


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