Fiscal Discipline, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

IN THE 1957 epic "The Bridge on the River Kwai," British prisoners of war, under the direction of their maniacal, rule-obsessed colonel, labor frantically to build a magnificent bridge for their Japanese captors; at the movie's end, the deranged colonel tries to prevent his own side from blowing up the bridge. "Madness, madness," the film concludes.

Now a band of conservative House Republicans has staged a remake of the movie -- except this time the threatened structure is Alaska's proposed "Bridge to Nowhere," which would link sparsely populated Ketchikan with even more sparsely populated Gravina Island. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who made the "River Kwai" comparison, said his group had concluded, "We should blow this bridge."

At first glance it appears that they have. In fact, though, what Congress did with the bridge is so phony that it only underscores lawmakers' fecklessness in bringing any limits to unnecessary spending. Yes, House and Senate conferees agreed to cut $432 million earmarked for the Ketchikan bridge and another bridge, known as "Don Young's Way," in the recently passed transportation spending bill. The latter bridge, named in honor of the House Transportation Committee chairman, who also happens to be Alaska's only House member, would stretch across an inlet in Anchorage to a nearly deserted port.

Sounds frugal, except for this: The money won't actually be saved. Instead it will go into Alaska's already overflowing pot of federal largess to be used on whatever transportation project state officials see fit to fund.

Madness, madness.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company