Coburn Amendment: Bridge to Somewhere

Senator Tom Coburn (R, Oklahoma) has introduced an amendment (PDF) “To redirect certain funds for use for reconstruction of the Twin Spans Bridge connecting New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana.”

This amendment will transfer funding from the wasteful pork project, the “Bridge to Nowhere†in Alaska, to the repair and reconstruction of the “Twin Spans†bridge in Louisiana. According to published reports, the Alaskan pork project costs $220 million for a 5.9-mile bridge connecting Gravina Island (population 50) to the Alaskan mainland. The cost of the bridge alone would be enough to buy every island resident his own personal Lear jet.

Mike Krempasky is starting a campaign to have people e-mail Republican congressmen to support this measure.

If Republicans aren’t willing to step back from this idiocy in Alaska to fund the needs in Louisiana – they don’t deserve anything more than a snicker next time they try to describe themselves as the party of limited government.

This would seem a no-brainer, indeed.

Update: Mark Tapscott thinks Coburn is the second coming of Mr. Smith and writes,

The Coburn amendment is a masterful piece of truth in legislation that could set in motion a movement to end log rolling in Congress. This could become an historic turning point in the effort to restore accountability and honesty in Congress and the rest of government.

I wish I shared his optimism. Coburn actually ran on an “I’m not going to be bringing pork back to the state” platform and barely won. All of the incentives, unfortunately, work in the opposite direction. Indeed, in an environment where hundreds of billions in pork barrel earmarks are up for grabs, declining to fight for your constitutents’ share is almost derelict.

The Framers set up a system where every state has two senators and each state is divided into House districts based on population. These Members are accountable every six and two years to their states and districts, respectively. Almost by design, then, they look out for local interests. Indeed, aside from matters of foreign policy, the very idea that there was a political unit (“the country”) that one would put ahead of one’s home state was unthinkable.

Unfortunately, mostly as a consequence of the Great Depression, the role of the Federal government in domestic matters radically and permanently changed in the mid-1930s. With huge piles of money being redistributed through the largess of the Federal taxpayer, the system of local representation took on a seedy underside in the form of this annual grab for pork.

With the combination of Katrina’s devastation, the naked absurdity of the Alaska bridge, and Coburn’s courage, it’s not inconceivable that this particular piece of pork will be taken off the table. Institutionally, however, I expect Congressmen will be dining on pig for decades to come.

Update: As if we needed another example that pork is not dead, see “$2 Million Navy Urinal Study.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. BingoWonKr says:

    For chrissakes! Ted Stevens has served the country admirably. The Ketchikan bridge is essential to national security. If it does not get built, the terrorists will have won. This Coburn character has only been in the senate a couple of years. He has no right to demand that Stevens’ projects get the ax. He needs to shut up about this and start impugning gays and abortion doctors.

  2. Bobbert says:

    Tom Coburn is from Oklahoma.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Oops, that’s right. I knew it was a Big-12 state.

  4. DL says:

    The bridge to nowhere,

    Build it, or boat across and kill a few spawning salmon with your prop. If we can save but one salmon’s life it will be worth the $220 million.

    After all, it’s not like the chickens don’t need to get to the other side!

  5. Herb says:


    Then again, the chickens have get to the other side so they can carry the “Bird Flu” there with them without having to paddle across.