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Obama and Biden Voted Against Stripping 'Bridge to Nowhere' Funds

wdcpix.comThe funds for the “Bridge to Nowhere” had a tortured passage through the Congress in 2005, long before Gov. Sarah Palin confronted the problem of whether to continue it. The crucial vote on the bridge’s future came on October 20, 2005, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) brought an amendment to the floor to redirect $75 million in earmarks from Alaska’s two massive bridge projects to the Gulf Coast. The amendment failed, with a final roll call of 82-15. Among the 82 senators voting against the amendment were Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Joe Biden (D-DE).

The vote came after a bitter Senate debate, when Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) – who along with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) had been the driving force behind the $223 million for the Gravina Island bridge and $231 million for the Knik Arm bridge – threatened to resign from the Senate if Coburn’s amendment passed.

Four Democrats voted for Coburn’s amendment: Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Evan Bayh (D-IN). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), along with two other senators, did not vote. (McCain had voted against the original 2005 transportation bill, which contained the earmarks.)

Sen. Obama did address his vote in a Chicago Tribune op-ed one month later. In the op-ed, Obama argued that Congress could find the $100 billion needed for Gulf Coast reconstruction “with a balanced approach on spending and cuts.” One “wrong” approach, he wrote, was to single out Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere”:

Others intent on cutting spending have pointed to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" as a wasteful project. I agree and believe that it represents the first type of project we should cut. But it's wrong to single out one state's pork project. If we're serious about shared responsibility, let's eliminate all pork projects in all states.

In arguing that it was wrong to pick on Alaska, Obama was offering “an excuse, not an explanation,” said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “That’s standard 101 inside-Washington politics to say that no one can touch anyone else’s earmarks.”

In defending their votes, other Democrats offered similar rationales. For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told the Lansing State Journal the amendment would have had adverse consequences for the federal largesse Michigan had in the bill: “There were many projects in the highway bill - hundreds of projects - that I wouldn't favor if voted on separately. Pulling one project out of a bill Congress has already passed would no doubt lead to reopening the entire package, which overall would probably leave Michigan far worse off.”

If earmarks were going to be singled out, Obama’s home state, Illinois, might have made a tempting target. According to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, the 2005 transportation bill had $1.3 billion in earmarks for Illinois. (Most of that had been secured by the state’s House delegation, which included then-Speaker Dennis Hastert.) Delaware, Biden’s home state, had $168.3 million in earmarks. Biden, the state’s senior lawmaker, has been open about his support for his state’s earmarks, which he says, are all “straight up.” Some critics disagree.

The Obama campaign did not return our request for comment about either Obama’s or Biden’s vote, but we’ll let you know if they do.

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