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More McCain on earmarks

As the Democratic Party abandons the “moderate New Democrat” approach (we withhold comment on whether it was ever more than “triangulating” rhetoric) that allowed it to snatch slim pluralities in 1992 and 1996, the nation watches in pained fascination as liberal Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama extend their slow-motion mud-wrestling match, struggling for the support of government employee unions and other “core Democratic constituencies.”

It’s as potentially suicidal as that cliff-edge battle of the dinosaurs that graces both major film versions of Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” But it’s certainly hard to take your eyes off of. And that makes it hard for GOP nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain of Arizona to fight his way out of the “elsewhere in the news” briefs on page four.

Nonetheless, Sen. McCain, who finally seems to be gaining some traction in his own long-term battle against congressional “earmarks,” did have a valid point Wednesday, as he campaigned in Pennsylvania.

The senator said the bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145 others in Minnesota last year might have been avoided if Congress had spent its funds on such routine but vitally important projects as infrastructure maintenance, rather than on goofy pet projects that can range from bird-counting computers in Nevada to endive research in Massachusetts to a “$223 million bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. …

“The bridge in Minneapolis didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money,” Sen. McCain told reporters in Allentown, tacitly rebutting the standard “More taxes!” cry. “The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects” — $18 billion last year alone, the senator estimates.

Sen. McCain has vowed to veto spending bills containing earmarks, thus forcing congressional allocations back into the old-fashioned system of public vetting through public committee hearings.

“It’s the process I object to,” Sen. McCain said in response to the objection that some earmarks fund worthwhile medical research. “I’m sure that I can give you a list of projects the Mafia funds, and they would probably be good projects. But I can’t give you a justification for the Mafia. I can’t give you a justification for the corruption that’s been bred which has sent members of Congress to the federal prison.”

Goodness. A bold position on an important issue that a president could actually do something about — with no immediate “clarification” from the staff, explaining that the senator somehow “misspoke.”

How refreshing.

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