By Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) likes to portray herself as a small government conservative and ferocious opponent of wasteful federal spending. Earlier this year, she outlined her proposal to cut the federal budget by an estimated $423 billion by, among other things, eliminating the Department of Education, ending federal job training programs, privatizing the Federal Aviation Administration, cutting veterans’ disability payments, and eliminating all congressional earmarks. In a recent speech to South Carolina Republicans, she warned that President Obama would lead the nation to a $21 trillion debt. “We are talking Greece territory in the greatest country in the world. We are talking Greece,” she said.
But when it comes to spending $700 million on a bridge in her home state — and trampling on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in the process –- Bachmann is an earmark-loving big-spender.
Today, Bachmann introduced legislation that would clear the way for building a proposed four-lane highway bridge over the St. Croix River that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin. The bridge would cross a section of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway that is part of the wild and scenic rivers system. The bill would overrule a finding last October by the National Park Service that the bridge cannot be built because it would “fundamentally change the scenic qualities that existed when the St. Croix was designated a national wild and scenic river in 1972.”
In a recent letter to the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) said she supported an “appropriately scaled and designed bridge” but the proposed boondoggle is “fiscally irresponsible, environmentally damaging and will create a transportation mess for communities along Minnesota Highway 35 in the congressional district I represent.”
The conservation group American Rivers named the St. Croix one of the nation’s most endangered rivers in 2009, and denounced Bachmann’s legislation. Rebecca Wodder, the group’s president, said Bachmann’s earmark would mean construction of an expensive and “massive freeway,” that would “irreversibly damage the beauty of the Lower St. Croix.” By deeming the bridge consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers act, the legislation would set a dangerous precedent, American Rivers said.