Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Boating Opportunities Make Earmarks Okay, But Children's Healthcare Coverage Does Not?

U.S. Representative Jim Cooper joined U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell today on the Shelby Street Bridge to promote The Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which would pump $10 million into a study on Cumberland Riverfront Development. But the bill is going to cost a lot more than the $10 million allocated to Nashville (it still has to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President). The Congressional Budget Office's May 2007 estimate is that the entire bill--which includes earmarks for water, recreation, and transportation-related projects around the country--will cost "$8.1 billion over the 2008-2012 period and an additional $6.8 billion over the 10 years after 2012."

I do not have a problem with supporting this bill as it stands, because I think that developing the various water resources in these United States are a proper role for the federal government to play. But I think that Jim Cooper has a problem with inconsistency between his reasons for voting for this bill and those he used for voting against the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill. On the one hand, he voted against the SCHIP bill on the basis of his argument that a good project was "drowned" in unnecessary spending.

On the other hand, he voted for a water bill which itself could be and has been accused of frivolous earmarks, largely focused on studies rather than the delivery of actual services. One of the water bill earmarks is a project that Mr. Cooper himself has criticized: Alaska's "bridges to nowhere." Mr. Cooper could have easily made the case that some water bill money had more to do with beach resort development and less to do with community water projects per se. But he did not criticize and vote against the water bill's earmarks in the same way he did the SCHIP earmarks. Instead, he called the water bill "fiscally responsible."

While some boaters might appreciate Mr. Cooper's comments about "new recreational opportunities" for Middle Tennesseans, I wonder whether recreation should merit greater gravitas and support than the initiative to provide health insurance for the children of working families in spite of earmarks designated for areas outside of Middle Tennessee?

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