In a particularly egregious display of current Senate form, Mississippi’s senators proved exactly why the rush to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina should have included a little more planning and a lot more oversight (since federal dollars were involved). Consider:
Mississippi’s two U.S. senators included $700 million in an emergency war spending bill to relocate a Gulf Coast rail line that has already been rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina at a cost of at least $250 million.
Republican Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, who have the backing of their state’s economic development agencies and tourism industry, say the CSX freight line must be moved to save it from the next hurricane and to protect Mississippi’s growing coastal population from rail accidents. But critics of the measure call it a gift to coastal developers and the casino industry that would be paid for with money carved out of tight Katrina relief funds and piggybacked onto funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If it needs to be moved now, it needed to be moved then. Why spend a quarter of a billion dollars to fix a rail line that any fool could see would face the exact same risk after repair that caused it to need repair? I think the question answers itself, considering this is the United States Senate, with solid fiscal conservatives in charge of doling out the political favors.
The $700 million in the emergency spending bill is just short of the price CSX set for selling its right of way, buying into the Norfolk Southern line, making capacity improvements on the main line and bolstering a short line railway to bypassed areas. The high price was inevitable, Appropriations Committee aides said. CSX just spent as much as $300 million in insurance payouts and its own money to rebuild the track that Lott and Cochran now want to destroy.
Susan Irby, Lott’s communications director, said safety is the senator’s biggest concern. But she added: “Senator Lott makes no apologies for trying to develop one of the poorest states in the country.”
Of course not. He’s a modern Republican. Want to take bets that this will play out exactly like Sen. Stevens’ defunded, but not really, “bridge to nowhere”? Senators Lott and Cochran are going to get their money, and we’re all going to pay for it with even more money to buy off another senator with another pet project. Is it November yet?