Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bachmann's Boondoggle Bridge

" C'mon, it's Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like we're going into Wisconsin."~ John Winger

I admit, proudly, to being a tree-hugger. I'll take the company of a bunch of trees over a bunch of Republicans any day. I also admit, proudly, to an intense dislike for Minnesota Congresscreature Michele Bachmann. And in that regard, any piece of legislation that is urged by Bachmann is something I'm going to initially reject without even knowing what it is.

She's been pushing for a bridge across the St. Croix River for a long time now, a replacement for the current structure which connects Minnesota and Wisconsin. The problem is that she needs to get Congressional approval.

Back in 1968, a guy named Walter Mondale, along with his buddy Gaylord Nelson passed the "Wild and Scenic Rivers Act" which protects rivers, like the St. Croix, from having bridges built across them. Mondale has been vocal in his opposition to Bachmann's request that it be bypassed. (The reason she needs Congressional approval.)

H.R 850 (her bill) and S.1134, the Senate counterpart, have passed. Today it's back in the House for final debate, and a vote perhaps tomorrow. It's likely to pass, although that's not a certainty yet. They're hustling it along under special rules requiring a 2/3 vote that is normally used in non-controversial bits of business like naming post offices, or voting themselves pay raises.

The Stillwater Bridge, which everyone agrees needs to be replaced, is in Bachmann's congressional district. But that's about to change. After a remapping, the bridge will fall in Dem Rep. Betty McCollum's district, and Betty opposes the bridge that Bachmann has been trying to hustle through Congress. McCullom acknowledges the need for a replacement bridge in Stillwater, just not one that costs $700million. She seems to think there's a lot of pork and graft connected to this particular piece of business, and points to the $300million spent to replace the 35W bridge that famously collapsed near Minnneapolis/St. Paul not long ago.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has given a March 15th deadline for final passage, and if it's not reached, he says the money already earmarked for the new bridge will be spent in other areas around the state.

Dayton supports the new bridge. So does (D) Sen. Al Franken. So does Wisconsin Gov. Mark Walker. There's agreement on this thing across the board, and between people who usualyy go at it like cats and dogs. Red flag there. Maybe it's my Chicago suspicion radar going off. I hate unanimous consent. Argue motherfuckers. Debate.

Both houses of Congress seem perfectly willing to bypass the Wild And Scenic Rivers Act for the time being, a move that Mondale says will signal an end to the Act itself. They don't like objecting in the House of Reps on things like this, and they don't like blocking House proposals in the Senate unless of course they involve shit like Unemployment benefit extensions or health care for 9/11 first responders.

In reading about this stuff, I suddenly got this creepy feeling....a memory of the Willet Creek Dam project in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Sen. Paine, played by Claude Raines, is a slimebag, and is in the pocket of Jim Taylor. Taylor is a prominent power broker from Paine's home state ( never actually identified in the movie.) Taylor wants a dam built across Willet Creek, and he wants his man in the Senate, Paine, to slam the bill which approves the dam through the Senate.

Along comes Jefferson Smith, played masterfully by Jimmy Stewart, a newly appointed temporary seat filler in the Senate. Paine's former Senate partner, a guy named Sam Foley had died suddenly. Couldn't have come at a worse time as Foley had been in on the deal to build this dam. Together they'd buried, uh attached, the dam funding appropriation to a "deficiency bill" was was being eased through Congress. Paine and Taylor were in trouble. They needed a new guy, Foley's replacement, who wouldn't ask any questions about the dam. And so, they had their pal the Governor appoint Mr. Smith to replace Foley.

Without getting too involved in the details of the flick, Smith is a noob who has no idea what kind of sneaky business the US Government carries on daily. As long as he doesn't ask questions, Paine and his handlers are good to go. Unfortunately for Smith, he wants to do something. He wants to play Senator. He wants to introduce a bill that establishes a boys camp, a place where kids from around the country can go to hike and fish and sleep under the stars. In fact, he tells his assistant Saunders, there 's a place called Willet Creek....

Gasp. Of all the confounded places for Smith to choose, he's picked the same spot that Taylor and Paine and the other money-grubbers have set aside for their dam. After first trying to convince Smith to choose a different spot, unsuccessfully, Paine and Taylor trump up some phony charges against Smith and try to have him expelled from the Senate. Which is of course the setting for the climactic filibuster scene at the end of the movie. And of course, Mr. Smith's filibuster is so effective, Raines/Paine can't stand himself anymore and tries to commit suicide in the hall, unsuccessfully. And that's when Paine finally rushes the Senate floor and spills his guts. Smith is telling the truth, I'm a crook. I don't deserve to be here representing the American people in this hallowed chamber etc etc etc.

$700 million of taxpayer money, split between Minnesota and Wisconsin, is what Bachmann is after with her bill. And, she needs to get this done fast. That's another red flag for me. What's the rush? Don;t give that bullshit about now or never either. If it's that important, you'll find a way to trim it back. The same asshole who squeals about government spending wants a gargantuan sum for a bridge that won't stretch more than a few miles, and will carry approximately 18,000 cars per day....roughly 1/20th of the total that use the 35W.

Like I said, the thing will likely pass. I don't expect someone like Al Franken to come barging in with his hair on fire screaming about the dirty deals going on in Washington, and how he can't live with himself anymore. But seriously, $700 million? Seems like a lot of scratch to me. Next time Bachmann starts whining about wasteful spending, remember how she ushered this thing through Congress. She's been calling both Boehner and Pelosi urging them to get behind the bypassing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and has compared her efforts to "parting the Red Sea." No, not really all that Biblical Michele, it's just the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act you're taking a machete to. And it's not like I expect any of our current Congress to stand up for something as silly as the natural beauty of the country.

My friends at the National Parks Service called this to my attention. They oppose the move. They seem to think the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act serves a purpose. I told the woman who emailed me, asking that I contact my Congresscreature Jan Schakowsky and urge her to vote no to this thing,...I love you folks at the NPS, but watch your backs. My Congresswoman couldn't care less what they do in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It's their money. And assholes like Bachmann are the first to look at outfits like the National Park Service when it comes to trimming the federal budget. She's such a fiscal conservative.

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