In the recent past, CNN, to its credit, has highlighted the Democrat-controlled Congress’s reluctance to reform the congressional earmark process. Co-host John Roberts on Tuesday’s "American Morning" brought up the issue of earmarks again during a sympathetic interview to Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. But instead of bringing up the Democrat’s continuing lack of leadership on the issue, the segment instead began with a discussion on the pork-barrel spending project of the former Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
During the interview, Ellis highlighted several pet projects dealing with transportation construction, which is particularly relevant in the aftermath of the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis. As he was being interview, Ellis stood next to I-99, an interstate highway in Pennsylvania that, as Roberts pointed out, "doesn't really go anywhere. The largest city it will ever serve is Altoona, which has a population of about 50,000." Roberts also pointed out that I-99's nickname is the "Bud Shuster Highway," which Ellis explained was due to the fact that Congressman Shuster, a Republican who served from 1972 to 2001, was once the "chairman of the powerful Transportation Committee." Shuster’s influence led to the appropriation of $690 million in taxpayer money for the construction of I-99.
Roberts then asked a few million-dollar questions, or in this case, trillion-dollar questions.
ROBERTS: So Steve, why is money being spent on pet projects like that, when according to a recent study, there is $1.6 trillion in urgently needed repairs to our bridge and highway infrastructure system, over the next five years?
ELLIS: If you could ever call highway spending 'sexy,' repair is decidedly unsexy. Nobody gets to cut a ribbon. Nobody gets the name, it's the Bud Shuster Highway after them. It just sort of aggravates commuters driving through that they've got to drive through this repair and have delays. And so, essentially, people would much rather lay new concrete than they would to actually repair what we already have.
ROBERTS: So, I-99 was a pet project otherwise known as an earmark. Hugely controversial in Congress, yet many members of Congress just can't get enough of these.
ELLIS: Well, yeah, John. In the Transportation Bill, the big omnibus Transportation Bill that passed in 2005 -- that had probably the most famous earmark of all, the bridge to nowhere in Alaska -- had more than 6000 earmarks -- more than 6300 earmarks, worth $24 billion. And we're seeing still, earmarks in all the appropriations bills going through. I mean, this is the way that members of Congress are bringing home the bacon to their home districts.
ROBERTS: Are they just addicted to these things?
ELLIS: Yeah, unfortunately, John. It seems like this is something that they know that they can do to bring home to their home district. They can have a project named after them. They can have a road named after them, like the Bud Shuster Highway. And unfortunately, we've seen this across the country. There's a variety of new bridges and other projects that are being spent, we're spending taxpayer dollars on, instead of putting on money to repairs.
Roberts concluded by asking about two bridge construction projects in Florida and Kentucky that the Taxpayers for Common Sense website highlighted, which Ellis explained are "redundant of already existing bridges." As a final quick question, Roberts asked, "Steve, yes or no answer here. Democrats promised a new world when it comes to earmarks, after they were elected. Has the world changed?" Ellis answered by saying "a little," with a bit of laughter from both Roberts and Ellis.
While Roberts did mention the continuing problem that "many members of Congress just can’t get enough" of pork-barrel spending, his failure to mention that the Democrats have not kept their campaign promise to reform the earmark process is a major omission on his part.