How Kosher is Obama’s ‘Ban’ on Pork?

Jan 6, 2009 4:05pm

"We are going to ban all earmarks," President-elect Obama pledged today after a meeting with his economic team, discussing the multibillion dollar stimulus package.

Mr. Obama made the promise carefully — his definition of earmarks was "the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review."

One reporter asked the President-elect about this, noting, "you said there will be none that get in there without review. Some people would argue even the so-called ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ got … some level of review."

Supporters of the "Bridge to Nowhere" have long argued that the raison d’etre of the bridge was to connect the mainland to Ketchikan International Airport, not to the small town of 50 or so residents.

And in fact the State of Alaska examined eight different proposed bridge crossings in 1973, when the airport was built. And then, according to Alaska officials the following reviews took place:

In 1981, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough examined bridge and underwater tube crossing alternatives. In 1984, Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton provided a cost analysis of proposed bridge, tube, and ferry crossings. In 1988, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough passed a resolution supporting a "hard link" crossing and the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS). In 1989, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough studied road routes on Pennock and Gravina Islands to the airport. In 1991, the Alaska Legislature authorized funding for the Ketchikan "Hard Link" EIS.  In 1994, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities prepared an in-house draft EIS of ferry, bridge, and tunnel crossing options. In 1998 the Federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) allocated funds specifically for this project. And in 2004, an approved EIS selected a bridge alternative as the Preferred Alternative for improving access.

It was only in 2005 — after all these reviews — when former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, tried to get funding for the project that it became a notorious symbol of pork.

But President-elect Obama’s response was to offer his definition of earmarks once more. "Let me repeat what I said about that: We will ban all earmarks in the recovery package," said Mr. Obama. "And I describe earmarks as the process by which individual members insert pet projects without review. So  what I’m saying is, we’re not having earmarks in the recovery package, period. I was describing what earmarks are."

The reporter was confused, asking if the President-in-waiting was suggesting there’s a level of review that’s okay, and one that’s not okay.

Because by Mr. Obama’s definition, Alaska’s Gravina Island Bridge — the notorious $398 million "Bridge to Nowhere" — was not an earmark depending on what "without review" means.

"I’m saying there are no earmarks in the recovery package," the president-elect said, interrupting. "That is the position that I’m taking."


A related item: on January 29, 2008, President George W. Bush signed an executive order directing federal agencies to ignore earmarks contained in conference reports (which is where most of the wasteful earmarks are found).

During the campaign Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would keep the order in place, but then-Sen. Obama’s campaign never answered the question as to whether he would.

Citizens Against Government Waste has since urged the President-elect to keep the order in place.

But no word yet.

– jpt

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