Congress Should Cease Its Edifice Complex

JOHNSTOWN, PA — Devastated in 1889 by a notorious flood, this town today welcomes turboprop aircraft to its tiny airport. Approaching the terminal — which a decent-sized grocery store would dwarf — a sign greets passengers: “– John Murtha — Johnstown Cambria County Airport.”

Inside, a framed photo features Rep. John Murtha meeting local factory workers and praising their employer for creating jobs. Another picture shows the vocal Iraq War critic’s face superimposed on the Stars and Stripes.

Near the front door, Murtha’s portrait smiles from the wall, as Old Glory rises from an adjacent flag stand.

“During the 1990’s [sic], largely through the efforts of Congressman Murtha, this airport extended its runway, updated its landing, [and] approach lighting…” reads a plaque beside the Democrat’s picture. “The total federal investment was approximately $125 million.”

So, this whole place is a $125 million political ad funded by America’s taxpayers. Murtha’s face greets every constituent who walks in. This boosts Murtha’s name identification and eases his reelection to Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, which he has represented since 1975.

Such ego-driven pork-barrel projects protect incumbents, fuel their vanity, and cost taxpayers real money. And they should stop.

Murtha, after whom a highway also is named, is not the only Congress member with this edifice complex. This problem is bicameral and bipartisan.

  • Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is named after Alaska’s senior Republican senator. He lavished it with $12.5 million in federal funds last year alone.
  • Detroit’s John D. Dingell VA Medical Center received $3.5 million in federal research grants last year, thanks to Michigan’s veteran Democratic congressman.
  • Mitch McConnell Park and McConnell Plaza are named after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. He has brought home to Kentucky at least $40 million in federal transit funds for assorted park projects.
  • Pete and Nancy Domenici Hall houses the University of New Mexico’s MIND Imaging Center. That state’s GOP senator has secured at least $70 million in federal funds for this organization.
  • The Robert C. Byrd Highway and the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam are among some 40 projects named after former Klansman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia’s long-serving Democratic senator. Taxpayers for Common Sense once wondered if the entire state might be renamed West “Byrd” ginia.

It is tough for politicians to oppose projects named after their colleagues. It’s one thing to block questionable funds for the Johnstown Cambria County Airport. It’s quite another to turn thumb’s down on the John Murtha Airport when big, bad John himself is standing 10 feet away on the House floor, glowering at you.

This Kim Jong-Ilish egomania causes envious politicians to think, “I sure would love my own airport!” So, they covet their own taxpayer-funded baubles. And the logrolling continues.

Vanity pork also is foolish because projects bear the names of politicians who do foolish things.

  • Embarrassed Georgia legislators are trying to rename the Cynthia McKinney Highway. The erratic Democratic congresswoman lost her House seat last year after smacking a Capitol Police officer who dared ask for her ID card. She also accused Al Gore of having a “low Negro tolerance level.”
  • Ohio University renamed the Robert W. Ney Center for Health and Physical Education when the Ohio Republican congressman was jailed on federal conspiracy charges.

This obnoxious practice violates House Rule XXI.6: “It shall not be in order to consider a bill, joint resolution, amendment, or conference report that provides for the designation or redesignation of a public work in honor of an individual then serving as a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator.” Alas, asking Congress to obey its own rules is like expecting teenagers not to party while their parents are away for the weekend.

During their 12-year abandonment of limited government, congressional Republicans perpetuated this mess. If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.- Calif.) instead desires Democratic reformism, she should propose this simple solution that evaded the GOP:

If non-Presidents must be dead for five years before appearing on postage stamps, one must be equally dead before having his name on any federally funded public work. Presidential libraries should be excepted since they advance scholarship, usually commencing while former chief executives still live. Otherwise, let’s honor politicians posthumously, not while they are retired, and certainly not while they are in power.