Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was a cosponsor of an amendment to rescind funding for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, not the sponsor, as reported yesterday in the series "Pork Barrel Politics." The sponsor was Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.).
Last year, when the Reagan administration decided to pay for only the bare essentials on new interstate highways, one of the Senate's leading budget-cutters, William L. Armstrong of Colorado, found himself in an awkward position.
Armstrong had to choose between his support for the president's austerity budget and finding extra money for the voters back home. Many of his constituents have been fighting the planned construction of Glenwood Canyon, a $650 million, double-decker highway that they say would ruin the scenic beauty of the western Colorado mountains.
The project needed what the federal government would no longer finance: special landscaping and roadside parks that might limit the environmental damage.
"The Reagan administration has a policy that Sen. Armstrong could support 90 percent of the time, that highway funds should be used only for essentials," said Greg Walcher, a spokesman for the Republican senator. "But we're dealing here with a sensitive area. The senator is very concerned about cutting federal expenditures, but he's also concerned about Congress tying Colorado's hands and destroying the beauty of that area."
In September, Armstrong convinced the Environment and Public Works Committee to make an exception for Glenwood Canyon, allowing his state to spend another $24 million for the extra amenities.
While the federal budget knife cut deeper last year than any time in recent memory, it still barely scratched the surface of most transportation projects, one of the most lucrative parts of the congressional pork barrel.
Many of the same senators who joined the assault on a wide range of domestic programs continued to vote for costly new highways, subways and money-losing rail lines in their states. They also managed to find ample funding for inland waterways and home-town harbors, thus subsidizing the flow of barges and tankers through local waters.
Providing new transportation routes for the folks back home is part of a long tradition on the Hill. Many senators never actually see the benefits of the billions of dollars in aid programs they approve every year. A highway like Glenwood Canyon, complete with express lanes and exit ramps, offers far more tangible evidence of their influence in Washington.
Since these projects may run counter to the new austerity, they sometimes call for a bit of legislative ingenuity. Armstrong doesn't sit on the public works panel, so he lobbied for the exception on Glenwood Canyon while his colleague on the committee, Gary Hart (D-Colo.), offered the provision. The report language declared the Colorado road "an environmentally sensitive area" that would not be bound by the standard highway regulations.
The public works panel granted one other exemption to the administration's "no frills" policy: Westway, the massive project in Manhattan. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), generally an outspoken critic of costly federal building projects, was the moving force behind that effort.
Federal transportation officials say the project--which includes such amenities as public housing, parkland and thousands of tons of landfill--will cost more than $2 billion. Some put the price tag even higher.
"Westway is going to cost $4 billion for four miles," said Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), who challenged the special treatment for the New York project. "That's a billion dollars a mile, or $16,000 an inch--the most expensive highway that mankind has ever built. They could've done it cheaper if they had built it with gold."
Once a transportation project is approved, though, a senator still has to persuade the Appropriations Committee to provide the funding. And that means trying to get the nod from Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who has wide latitude in slicing up the transportation pie.
Every year, Hatfield oversees nearly a billion dollars in money "traded in" by state officials who decide not to build an interstate highway. The money goes into two separate funds for road and transit projects, and while nearly every state is entitled to some of this aid, there is only enough money available each year for about 15 states to get a share.
As one Republican staff member put it, "When you're the chairman, you start with your stuff in the bill and then deal with everyone else's."
Hatfield's committee is giving Oregon the second largest award from the highway trade-in fund--$60 million this year for a variety of four-lane roads in Portland and the nearby suburbs of Beaverton and Salem. Hatfield said he started pushing for the trade-in money during the Carter administration so it wouldn't look as though then-Transportation Secretary Neal Goldschmidt, the former mayor of Portland, was favoring his home town.
"I started this effort two years ago," Hatfield said. "But becoming chairman of Appropriations certainly helped lock it in."
Oregon also is getting this year's third-largest dispensation from the transit trade-in fund, $45 million toward a 15-mile overhead rail line in Portland. And there is more: Tucked away in the committee report are instructions to give the Portland area another $76.8 million in "discretionary" transit grants over the next several years.
Only Illinois brought home a larger chunk from the highway fund, $125 million, after Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) and state transit officials had lobbied every member of the committee to help bail out Chicago's aging subway and road system.
Washington, Maryland and Virginia are the big winners in the transit fund, with $290 million this year for the Metro subway system, although that was authorized in separate legislation pushed through by the area's congressmen and senators. There are, of course, many legislators from other parts of the country who consider the $8.2-billion subway system here a classic pork barrel project.
The Democrats also became quite adept at dipping into the pork barrel during their years of running the Senate. This was graphically demonstrated by Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) during his one-man campaign to save the Cardinal, the Washington-to-Chicago train that runs through West Virginia.
Under orders from Congress, Amtrak officials recently shut down a number of money-losing train routes, including the only one that runs through Byrd's home state. They said the Cardinal was averaging less than 150 people on each train and losing more than $10 million a year.
Byrd quickly paid a visit to his colleague Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation. Andrews understood the problem; he had his own $15 million amendment in the budget for a bridge in Bismarck, N.D. The following language was inserted for Byrd in the budget: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the corporation Amtrak shall provide rail passenger service between Washington, D.C., and Chicago via Cincinnati."
In November, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), the Commerce Committee chairman, tried to knock out this provision on the floor. "I hope that this Senate is not going to get into the business of seeing who has the most power and the most clout," Packwood declared. "There is no other train in this nation that is designated by law to run. If that is the kind of favoritism the senators wish to write into law, so be it."
Byrd replied that the West Virginia route "should be looked upon as a valuable energy-saving service to the nation." When the dust settled, the minority leader had convinced 15 Republicans to join all but two Democrats in keeping his favorite train on track.
For many senators from coastal states, the most important form of local transportation is shipping at deepwater ports. They have long taken for granted that the government would keep paying the bills for operating and dredging the harbors, which allows these ports to accommodate larger ships with valuable cargo and commodities.
Last year, however, the White House proposed that the entire cost be shifted to the local ports, causing an uproar in a number of coastal states. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), for example, has been trying to make an exception for Baltimore harbor, which could lose $372 million in federal aid for its long-awaited dredging plan.
The battle over ports is expected to resume this month with key senators pushing various formulas that would weaken the Reagan plan, although each legislator seems to want someone else's constituents to pick up the tab.
Sen. James Abdnor (R-S.D.) doesn't have any harbors in his home state, but as a subcommittee chairman he is pushing a bill that would have the government pay 75 percent of the cost of running the ports, while taxing shippers at each port for the rest. Abdnor argues that the larger, natural harbors such as New York should pay the least, while those who use the smaller ports, which are more expensive to maintain, should pay the highest fees.
But Hatfield and South Carolina's Strom Thurmond--who are worried about the smaller ports at Portland and Charleston--say it would be fairer to tax all ports at the same rate. Abdnor says they just want everyone else to subsidize their home-state harbors; Hatfield replies that the interstate highway system never would have been built if the country had to wait for states like South Dakota to pay their share.
"Of course I'm going to protect the port of Portland," Hatfield said. "I was elected to protect it. Portland would be strangled within a few years under this proposal. But it's also important from a national perspective to help our balance of trade."
For all the sparring over highways and harbors, the most intense transportation battle of the year erupted over an inland waterway that has been under construction for years. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, long derided by critics as an ill-conceived waterborne turnpike, suddenly emerged as a symbol of the Senate's willingness to break with the spending habits of the past.
The $3 billion project has been denounced on the Senate floor as "an economic dinosaur," attacked by environmental groups as "a classic boondoggle" and castigated by the National Taxpayers Union as "the most expensive pork barrel project ever perpetrated upon the taxpayers." But this rhetorical barrage failed to deter the handful of southern senators who have staked their reputations on finishing the project.
The Tenn-Tom is a nine-foot ditch that would run parallel to the Mississippi River from just inside Tennessee to Demopolis, Ala. Dismissing criticism that this amounts to "a cloning of the Mississippi," supporters say the 242-mile waterway will carry substantial commercial barge traffic and help revitalize three southern states.
The issue became something of a cause celebre among such groups as the Audubon Society, Environmental Policy Center, Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. But most of the barge companies and grain and coal shippers who ostensibly would benefit from the waterway remained silent about the project, which opponents said was evidence that few of them planned to use it.
The most visible proponent by far was Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), who made several calls to ask his colleagues to support the project. But only 1 1/2 miles of the waterway are in Tennessee, and Baker left most of the arm-twisting to others.
As the final vote drew closer, it was Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.) who spent much of his time lobbying for the Tenn-Tom. He carried a little book around the Senate floor as he buttonholed key members, trying to cash in his chits from the years he parceled out military bases and defense contracts as head of the Armed Services Committee. He even took skeptics to a little room off the floor where he showed them an Army Corps of Engineers film praising the project.
Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), meanwhile, was telling wavering senators that Stennis could not win reelection unless the Tenn-Tom was saved. And Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, argued that the waterway was of "strategic importance to our national defense posture" because it would provide an alternate transportation route in case of war.
Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), chairman of the House energy and water subcommittee, called several senators to push for the project. Several staff members say Bevill suggested that he might view certain projects in their home states more critically if they voted against Tenn-Tom. "I called my friends in the Senate and urged them to support the Tenn-Tom, but I haven't made any threats against anyone," Bevill said afterward.
While critics said the project was only half-finished, Stennis and others maintained it was 81 percent complete and that the total cost will be only $1.8 billion. This argument helped to convert such freshman senators as Abdnor. "Today you couldn't get this thing off the ground for love or money," Abdnor said, "but it seems ridiculous to have poured vast sums of money into it and then spend more money to shut it down."
The two leading opponents, Moynihan and Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), had devised a clever strategy to neutralize this argument. Rather than try to kill the project outright, they would move to require that Mississippi and Alabama pay half the remaining cost.
Two days before the vote, however, Percy suddenly backed away from the plan. While criticizing Tenn-Tom as a boondoggle, Percy also has been fighting for a new, $820 million lock and dam at Alton, Ill., which is supposed to allow greater barge traffic along the Missouri River. Percy's aides told other staff members that Percy feared his support for the cost-sharing plan on Tenn-Tom would be used against him to force Illinois to pay for much of Lock and Dam 26.
Hal Smith, an assistant to Percy, said the senator has supported a modest charge on Illinois barges and was not deterred in his opposition to Tenn-Tom. But he added: "People who had an interest in Tenn-Tom did call us and say, 'You're going to lose some southern votes on Lock and Dam 26 if you're not careful.' "
The denouement came on Nov. 4, when Moynihan had little choice but to offer a more sweeping amendment to eliminate the entire $189 million budgeted for Tenn-Tom this year. Still, the vote was extremely close, and the outcome seemed to hinge on the 16 Republican freshmen elected in 1980 on antispending platforms. Ten of them voted to keep building Tenn-Tom; five voted against it.
The vote was tied as the last freshman, Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), announced that she would not cast a vote. Hawkins said that while she opposes the project, she was "pairing" her vote with that of Tenn-Tom supporter Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who was out of town.
The final tally was 48 to 46 in favor of the project. Some Democrats who had once opposed the project, such as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), were persuaded that it was necessary to complete the half-finished waterway. Alluding to the horse-trading by the project's southern supporters, Dodd was later overheard drawling to a fellow Democrat, "If y'all ever need anything in Alabama, you just let me know."