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Paved with good intentions
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


August 11, 2005

As President Bush signed the massive highway bill this week, he may well have thought to himself, "Thank heaven, I'll never have to do this again." When the six-year bill comes up for its next renewal, he'll be an ex-president on his ranch in Texas.

If the bill was not an outright defeat for the president, it was certainly a signal capitulation to political reality. Bush had to sign the bill - it was coming up on two years overdue - and if it was not what he wanted, the White House probably reckoned it was the best deal he was going to get.

The president's original line in the sand was $256 billion, more than sufficient, the White House said. In talks with Congress, that was ratcheted up to $284 billion. Any more than that, the White House said, and Bush would veto it. As a final little needle to the president, the bill Bush signed was $286.4 billion. The White House defense was: Well, it could have been worse. Indeed, it could have. Early plans batted around on Capitol Hill called for a budget-busting $375 billion.

The bill also signified another setback for the Bush administration - its war against earmarks. Earmarks are individual pet projects, which may or may not have merit, but have not been asked for by the government and are funded outside of normal budget scrutiny. And they tend to proliferate. Hey, if there's a couple million for the Packard Museum in Ohio then there has to be a couple of million for the Ford Museum in Michigan.

In 2002, after Congress had added more than 1,400 earmarks totaling $3.2 billion to transportation legislation, the White House declared war on them as wasteful and inefficient in its fiscal 2003 budget.

The bill Bush signed this week had 6,371 earmarks costing $24 billion. Budget watchdog groups were outraged, but Bush uttered not a peep at the signing ceremony in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's district in Illinois. Indeed, the president singled out one of the speaker's earmarks for praise - $207 million for the proposed Prairie Parkway in his district, even though the state hasn't determined whether the highway is really needed.

It should come as no surprise to the White House that Congress has quietly been ignoring the proposed spending limits in the president's fiscal 2006 budget.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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