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What an odd feeling to find myself siding with G.W. against Democrats. 

Bush has vetoed only his fifth bill since he took office in 2000, and finally Congress looks set to override him.  The House voted for override on Tuesday 361-54.  It would be reassuring that the Democrats and Republicans have finally found common ground on which to oppose the president if they were united for something like stem cell research, slowing global warming, or getting us out of Iraq. 

Instead, they’re going to override a veto of a $23 billion authorization for future water projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Although the bill includes some worthwhile projects, such as the $1.9 billion to restore coastal ecosystems, most of the 23 big ones are only a way to buy votes back home, otherwise known as pork.

The Tuesday Post-Dispatch has a top notch editorial about it. 

Among the projects in the bill is the reconstruction and expansion of locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers. There is also $135 million to restore levees on the East St. Louis riverfront and $11.2 million to repair Wood River levees.

Should those projects eventually be funded, they would create a slew of well-paying construction jobs and eliminate some barge congestion. They also would increase flood protection for Metro East residents. That would be good for our region.

But let’s be honest: If the lock and dam expansion were proposed elsewhere, we’d be denouncing it as pork – and with good reason.

The corps tried for years to find economic justification for rebuilding the Mississippi and Illinois river locks. Some early studies concluded the investment required would return about 5 cents on the dollar in public benefits. Later studies were premised on the idea that barge traffic, which has declined for decades, suddenly would boom. That’s unlikely.

Rather than waste almost $2 billion on new locks that always end up killing wildlife, including endangered species, it would make more sense to skip the pork, skip the new locks, and tell some of those corporations shipping their goods by barge to consider railroads instead.

If you click on the Freight Rail Works ad at the left, you’ll find plenty of surprising information, but the most illuminating is that railroads can move 423 tons of freight for one gallon of fuel.  (Considering that statistic, we need to be getting a lot of trucks off the road too, thus saving the state of Missouri road repair money and unnecessary traffic fatalities.)

Pork barrel projects rose exponentially when Republicans controlled Congress, something like ten times more of it.  So it makes sense that pork would be the one issue where Republicans would hold hands with Democrats.  And it’s possible that legislators aren’t acting cynically, but believe spending all these billions is necessary. 

But the national treasury isn’t a well that Congress can dip into for billions for every unresearched whim.  This well could run dry, and I’m disappointed in our legislators for spilling several buckets this week.