Obama and Biden’s moaning about all of this would be far easier to stomach if they, too, opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Not so.
Obama and Biden had an excellent opportunity to do the right thing. Just seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) proposed to transfer $125 million from the notorious Bridge’s budget and instead devote it to rebuilding the Interstate 10 Twin Spans Bridge between New Orleans and St. Tammany’s Parish. The storm chopped up the bridge.
“We have the largest natural catastrophe we have ever seen in our history,” Coburn said on the Senate floor on October 20, 2005. “It is time we reassess the priorities we utilize in this body as we think about our obligations at home.”
Coburn’s amendment failed 15-82. Obama and Biden were among the “nays.” They and 80 other senators preferred to protect the earmarking tradition than to assist Katrina’s tempest-tossed citizens.
Obama and Biden put pork first and people second. While the residents of New Orleans and southern Louisiana endured perhaps their greatest challenge since the Civil War, Obama and Biden both turned their backs on these embattled Americans.
Katrina demolished much of the city of Slidell, home to Nan Eitel, a formerly New Orleans-based attorney who relocated with her family to Washington, D.C. after the storm. The Twin Spans Bridge was “the route I used to take to work every day,” she recalls by phone. When Eitel learned Monday that Obama and Biden helped junk Coburn’s plan to rebuild the bridge she traveled every weekday morning and evening for 14 years, she says, “I was stunned. That bridge is critical to the economy of the greater New Orleans region.” She explains that it connected Slidell’s bedroom community with downtown New Orleans. She says it served “many people who worked in the oil and gas industry and the Michoud, Louisiana facility where the Space Shuttle’s rockets are built.”
Eitel says that Obama and Biden’s votes “showed a tremendous lack of understanding for that community and the bridge’s importance to the reconstruction effort.” While other routes connected New Orleans to the north and west, the ruined Twin Spans Bridge left it isolated from points east. “Without the bridge, you couldn’t get the city rebuilt,” Eitel says. “Without it, you could not bring in building supplies. Without it you could not truck in the water and food that people needed.”
The Twin Spans Bridge is being rebuilt, though without the help that Coburn tried to provide and Obama and Biden helped block.
“Sarah Palin stood up to the biggest porkers in her state when she refused to spend taxpayer dollars on the Bridge to Nowhere,” the Club for Growth said in a statement yesterday. “Some in the media have claimed that Congress killed the Bridge first. This is not true. Congress removed the requirement to fund the bridge, leaving the choice up to the state. Once given the choice, Palin refused to spend taxpayer dollars on the wasteful Bridge to Nowhere. Standing up to Ted Stevens and Don Young in Alaska is nothing to sneeze at. Clearly, Barack Obama didn’t have the same courage in 2005.”
“While Barack Obama attacks Sarah Palin, we still have not heard him disavow his 2005 vote in favor of the Bridge to Nowhere and admit his mistake,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “Sarah Palin deserves credit for recognizing how harmful and corrupt the pork process has become. Barack Obama has had three years to come to the same realization, and we’re still waiting. We call on Senator Obama to disavow his 2005 vote in favor of the Bridge to Nowhere.”
It may be too much to expect Obama and Biden to apologize for embracing an extravagance for 50 Alaskans over a necessity for some 500,000 New Orleanians. However, it would be nice if Democrats stopped attacking Palin who finally buried a boondoggle that Obama and Biden valued more than they did the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.