Bridging the Partisan Divide (and the St. Croix)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:37 PM by

Bachmann’s Bridge Brings Bipartisan Backing and Bipartisan Barbs

After all the debate in recent weeks and months about federal spending and the deficit, you might think that you can predict how politicians and interest groups are going to line up on spending proposals. Perhaps that’s generally the case, but there are times when you would probably get it wrong – unless you take into account that the general rules don’t necessarily apply to spending for highways and bridges, especially if the proposed spending is an earmark for a legislator’s own district.

Yesterday when I stumbled across “Room for Debate” on the New York Times website, I was reminded that politics makes strange bedfellows, as well as strange inconsistencies in how politicians (and advocates) view different spending items. The debate the Times featured in a series of columns is about a proposed $700 million bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota, which would cross the St. Croix River, and which has the backing of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).  Ron Kind and Scott Walker also support the proposal.

Some conservative groups are supporting the $700 million bridge as a good economic investment, while some liberal groups think far less expensive options would be more sensible (and less of a blight on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). The ironies abound. 

Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense frames the debate, while coming down against the proposal: “The current lift bridge is outdated and needs to be replaced. Almost nobody doubts that. But the proposal currently on the table — a four-lane, interstate-style bridge — is bigger and more expensive than common sense would allow and a lousy deal for federal taxpayers.”  (“Too Big, Too Expensive”)

Joining Alexander in writing columns in opposition to the proposal are Walter Mondale (“Where is Common Sense?”) and Carol Hardin of the St. Croix Valley Interstate Group (“A Boon for Bankers and Developers”).  The Times also has two columns in support of the $700 million bridge, written by Christian Schneider of the WI Policy Research Institute (“Not All Earmarks Are Created Equal”) and Matt Kramer of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce (“Promoting Jobs and Investment”).

After watching the stalemate in Washington for much of the last couple of months, it’s refreshing to know that there are still some issues that generate bipartisan backing, and sometimes those same issues generate bipartisan brickbats. This will be an interesting debate to watch.

Jon Peacock

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