McCain targeted pork barrel spending in Alaska like no one else
When Sen. Ted Stevens was at the peak of his appropriating power, no one in the Senate challenged the way he funneled millions to Alaska more than Sen. John McCain.
At one point McCain wondered aloud about how Alaskans felt about being put on welfare.
The late Arizona senator was relentless in calling out pork-barrel spending that Stevens slipped into bills with little or no public review, including “Don Young’s Way,” the proposed name for the Knik Arm Crossing.
In 1997, McCain wrote to President Bill Clinton asking him to veto projects from the defense budget such as $5 million included for the landfill in Fairbanks, saying it should be paid for by local government.
Then as now, the Alaska Congressional delegation, led by Stevens, lived to get as much federal money spent in Alaska as possible. McCain thought the president should have more budget control.
In 1998, McCain blasted a highway bill as “likely the most pork-laden legislation ever to be considered by Congress in the 20th Century.” It included 1,850 highway projects throughout the U.S.
“I would be remiss if I did not inform the American public of the seriousness and magnitude of wasteful spending endorsed by this body,” McCain said.
In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision, co-sponsored by McCain, under which the president could remove projects with the line-item veto.
When Stevens inserted $20 million to set up the Denali Commission, McCain said it would benefit only Alaskans and should not be paid for by all U.S. taxpayers.
While running for president, McCain gave Stevens a key chain with a battery-operated pig’s head as a joke. “You’re still an oinker,” McCain said to Stevens, the Los Angeles Times said.
Year after year, McCain called out Stevens in ways that others never dared.
“Less than a year after passing one monstrosity, we are poised to do it again as if it should now be our standard operating procedure,” McCain said in 2004, with “a bill loaded with special interest pork barrel projects and legislative riders that have no business in this or any other spending bill.”
He said the bill included $450,000 for a celebration of Alaska statehood, but only $225,000 to celebrate Hawaii statehood.
“You would think they would want to equalize that. I am sure they will fix it in a later appropriations bill knowing the way, in the case of Alaska and Hawaii, that one hand washes the other,” referring to Stevens and his friend, Sen. Dan Inouye of Hawaii.
McCain ridiculed a plan to give $250,000 for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
“Alaska is known for a lot of things, but being the hotbed or the birthplace of aviation is not one that I knew of, although over the years I have grown to be more and more aware of the critical needs of Alaska for federal funds for every conceivable purpose,” McCain said.
He highlighted projects in many other states, annoying senators who had pet projects in budget bills, but Alaska was always a giant target.
For instance, he said this about a plan to give $200,000 to North Pole for recreational improvements.
“I know it has been a bad Christmas season for some, but you would think the elves and others might not need $200,000 for North Pole, AK. But one never knows, does one?”
He said that “somehow Alaska comes back and back and back and back throughout. I wonder how the people in Alaska feel about being put on welfare.”
McCain’s early website featured a graphic of a pig named Porky pushing a barrel of money across the screen and 100 pages of earmarks for dozens of states. The Washington Post said that McCain irritated many senators by attacking earmarks, but that Stevens mentioned to McCain how much he liked the site.
McCain told a reporter that his immediate thought after hearing that comment was, “I hope you don’t read it too carefully, Ted.”