Paul  Weyrich

If you thought the “bridge to nowhere” was too expensive, take a look at the price tag of the “railroad to the casinos.” The anticipated changing of a railroad route may not be a surefire route to riches for the citizens of Mississippi but it would be a straight flush for the casinos. Economic conservatives are critical of this deal; social conservatives also should be.

Senator Thomas Coburn (R-OK) challenged an appropriation earmark valued at $700 million sought by the political establishment of Mississippi – namely, Senators Trent Lott (R), Thad Cochran (R) and Governor Haley Barbour (R). (Senator Cochran is Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.) Coburn takes strong exception to Mississippi politicians’ attaching the earmark to the Iraq/Katrina Emergency Appropriations Bill. His amendment to derail funding for the rail line and a number of other projects lost 49-48. Another amendment offered by Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY) to strip earmarks, including the rail funding, from the Emergency Appropriations Bill also lost.

Coburn knew his fight was uphill but offers compelling points that address a larger problem within the institution of Congress and its appropriations process.

Here’s the background on this controversial project and the challenge that will occur.

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week considered the Iraq/Katrina Emergency Appropriations Bill. The House had passed a bill last month. The Senate took up the bill after some $14 billion had been added.

The railroad issue demonstrates just how far off-track the appropriations process has become. The rail tracks have been repaired and the railroad is fully operational. That lead Coburn to charge, “It is ludicrous for the Senate to spend $700 million to destroy and relocate a rail line that is in perfect working order, particularly when it recently underwent a $250 million repair.” (Later accounts put the estimate at $300 million.)

Lurking behind the issue is how the appropriation is handled and where the relocation would lead. Supporters say moving the tracks would allow a new highway to be built and protect the rail line from future storms. Coburn counters, “Emergency supplemental bills are designed to help our nation confront emergencies. While the current location of this rail line may be displeasing to local economic developers and politicians, it is hardly a national emergency.”

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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