Few appreciate anti-pork efforts as much as I do, and John McCain has a long and distinguished track record in this area. However, he allowed himself to get carried away in Pennsylvania while campaigning against pork. McCain told reporters that the bridge collapse last August in Minneapolis occurred because of pork-barrel spending, which is just flat out wrong (via Memeorandum and Instapundit):
Republican John McCain said Wednesday that the bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people last year would not have happened if Congress had not wasted so much money on pork-barrel spending.
Federal investigators cite undersize steel plates as the “critical factor” in the collapse of the bridge. Heavy loads of construction materials on the bridge also contributed to the disaster that injured 145 people on Aug. 1, according to preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“The bridge in Minneapolis didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money,” McCain told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania. “The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects.” …
“I think there is a long, long list of earmarks which went to unnecessary and unwanted projects that I think should have gone to the bridge in Minnesota,” McCain said. “I don’t know whether it would have gone or not, but if you’re spending $223 million on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it …”
I covered this extensively at Captain’s Quarters, including when McCain made the same accusation just days after the bridge collapse. As I wrote at the time, even before the cause of the collapse was found to be a design flaw:
Even without the pork, Minnesota got a 46% increase in transportation funds from that bill. That amounted to a $1.1 billion windfall over five years — certainly plenty of money to conduct inspections. In fact, as I’ve noted before, we could have replaced that bridge almost three full times with that increase.
Also, the bridge just got inspected in May, less than three months before its collapse. No one skipped inspecting the bridge, and pork barrel projects didn’t interfere with the inspection schedule. There is no correlation between earmarking and this particular collapse. While it makes a rather stinging rebuttal to those who claim that a lack of tax increases caused the collapse, neither actually is true and neither advances our efforts to find the truth.
Just as I criticized Amy Klobuchar and James Oberstar for exploiting the tragedy for their political hobby horses, we need to ask Senator McCain to have a care how he uses the dead in our community. I fully support his efforts to end earmarks and push towards legislative reform, but let’s stick to the real consequences of earmark abuse. Those consequences are bad enough — elected representatives selling out the American taxpayer to pad their own bank accounts and protect their incumbencies, while dragging more and more of our treasure out of our homes and businesses to fuel their thirst for power.
Minnesotans spend $2.2 billion a year on transportation, more than three times what we spend on public safety (fire and police). It’s the second-largest portion of the discretionary budget in this state, and for good reason. Winters take their toll on roads and bridges, and both are constantly in inspection and repair statuses. The St. Anthony Bridge was no exception to that. Unfortunately, the design flaw didn’t become apparent until the bridge collapsed.
Pork didn’t kill the bridge or the thirteen Minnesotans who died as a result of the collapse. Pork has its own evils, but this bridge collapse wasn’t one of them. John McCain needs to drop this anecdote from the anti-pork speech, as it both discredits the argument and disrespects the victims.