When Jimmy Carter came to Washington in 1977, one of the first things he did was put together a “hit list” of wasteful water projects that he hoped to kill. Being a neophyte in the ways of the beltway, Mr. Carter apparently didn’t realize that this type of pork spending is immensely popular on both sides of the aisle.
“Even those who understand the crucial role of water projects as conduits of power often fail to grasp their broad significance for seemingly unrelated domestic policy,” wrote Wendy Nelson Espeland in “The Struggle for Water,” her 1998 book. “Water projects create passionate alliances both locally and in Congress and were for years the prime timber for congressional logrolling.”
Mr. Carter got whipped in the battle — and lost plenty of political support in Congress. His presidency never recovered.
George W. Bush, meanwhile, is in his second term. He’s a lame duck. So he takes no such political risk in directing a flood light toward the pig sty. On Friday, he vetoed a $23 billion bill that authorizes hundreds of “water projects” across the country.
The measure is, of course, a textbook example of wasteful spending — “fiscally irresponsible,” the president called it. More than $9 billion in new projects were added during efforts to reconcile House and Senate versions of the measure.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers already has a backlog of $58 billion worth of projects from previous “water” bills.
But those political dynamics detailed by Ms. Espeland still apply. And following Mr. Bush’s veto, the big spenders in Congress were shrieking as if Daddy had taken away the keys to the Porsche.
“When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Oink, Oink.
But at least one member of Sen. Reid’s party must have missed the memo. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, applauded the president for vetoing a “flawed, bloated bill. Instead of trying to override the veto, Congress should take this opportunity to fix the bill.”
Yes, and then the cow will jump over the moon.