October 26, 2005
What Congress Did Is Disgusting
By John Stossel

What Congress did is disgusting.

You heard what the Senate did to Tom Coburn's attempt to impose some sanity on spending.

How do they live with themselves?

Years ago, interviewing economist Walter Williams for a show ABC News called "Greed," I was perplexed when Williams said, "a thief is more moral than a congressman; when a thief steals your money, he doesn't demand you thank him."

That was silly hyperbole, I thought, but watching Congress spend, I see that I was naive and Williams was right.

When the Democrats held power, I confronted Sen. Robert Byrd about wasting our money on "Robert Byrd Highway"-type projects in West Virginia. His answer was as arrogant as he was: "I would think that the national media could rise above the temptation of being clever, decrepitarian critics who twaddlize, just as what you're doing right here."

"Twaddlizing?" I asked.

"Trivializing serious matters," he explained.

I persisted, "Is there no limit? Are you not at all embarrassed about how much you got?" Byrd glared at me in silence, and finally demanded, angrily, "Are you embarrassed when you think you're working for the good of the country? Does that embarrass you?"

The Republicans promised to change the culture. Democrats sold panic. "Don't vote for them! They're going to shrink government and take away your favorite programs!" They needn't have worried. The Republicans got elected, but if the Democrats' goal was to expand the government, they were the real winners.

Once Republicans were in power, they started spending money even faster than the Democrats did.

Big spender Ted Stevens responded to Coburn's good suggestion to kill a "Bridge to Nowhere" with a tantrum on the Senate floor: He threatened to resign and "be taken out of here on a stretcher."

Good! Sen. Stevens, please go. I'll even help carry the stretcher.

Unfortunately, Congress has an unwritten code: "Don't threaten the other congressmen's loot." The Senate reprimanded Coburn by voting 82 to 15 to save the Bridge to Nowhere.

The Ketchikan, Alaska, bridge is particularly egregious because it's a bridge to a nearly uninhabited island. Yet it will be monstrous -- higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and almost as long as the Golden Gate. Even some in Ketchikan laugh about it. One told us, "Short view is, I don't see a need for it. The long view ... I still don't see a need for it."

Last week, Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski, said it would be "offensive" not to spend your money on her bridge. When she first became a senator, I asked her if Republicans believed in smaller government. She was unusually candid: "We want smaller government. But, boy, I sure want more highways and more stuff, whatever the stuff is."

I'll say. Alaska's pork projects spanned 67 pages. They get much more than other states. "Oh, you need to come up," she said. "You would realize it's not pork. It's all necessity ... People look at Alaska and say, 'Well, gee, they're getting all this money.' But we still have communities that are not tied in to sewer and water. There are certain basic things that you've got to have."

But my children shouldn't have to pay for them. If people want to live in remote areas of Alaska, why can't they pay for their own sewers and water, through state or local taxes, or better yet, through private businesses? Why should all Americans pay to run sewer lines through the vast, frozen spaces of Alaska? Because Alaska has no money?

Don't believe it. Alaska has so much money, it has no state income tax or sales tax. Instead, it gives its citizens money from something called the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Stevens, Murkowski and Don Young, who once told critics of the Bridge to Nowhere that they could "kiss his ear," are not unique. Republican politicians talk about limited government, but the longer they are in power, the more they vote to spend.

Spending your money, they want "more stuff."

2005 JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators Syndicate

John Stossel

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