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Trent Lott's $700 Million Sin City Scheme | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Trent Lott's $700 Million Sin City Scheme

There is one good thing that comes with "conservative" Republican hegemony: Proof positive that the Grand Old Party is no longer even feigns interest in fiscal responsibility.

Complete Republican control of the White House and Congress has unleashed a pork-barrel spending spree of unprecedented proportions. Deficit spending in on the rise. The national debt is soaring. And the greying pachyderms of the GOP just keeps dipping into the federal treasury to pay for more pet projects.

With the federal government on track to spend $371 billion more than it takes in this year, these "fiscal conservatives" are on a spree that the rest of us will be paying off for decades to come.

And they show no sign of slowing down.

The latest example of how powerful Republicans are porking up the budget comes from Mississippi's Republican delegation, and even by the standards of this Congress it's a pork-barrel pig out.

Mississippi Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both self-proclaimed "conservatives," are busy securing Congressional approval for a $700 million scheme to relocate a Gulf Coast railroad line. Lott, the Dixiecrat-hailing former Senate Majority Leader who hopes to return to the chamber's leadership after Tennessee's Bill Frist steps down in January, is the prime mover of the budget pen on this one -- and the prancing Prince of Pork really has outdone himself.

The railroad line in question was just repaired at a cost of $250 million but, after that money was spent, Lott and Cochran suddenly figured our that the tracks needed to go elsewhere – so they added their $700 million "earmark" to a $106.5 billion emergency defense spending bill in the Senate.

Earmarks, for those who don't speak Washingtonese, are the legislative tricks that powerful members of Congress use to secure funding for homestate projects without going through standard budget reviews. They are usually attached to major spending bills, in hopes that a few hundred million in additional expense will not be noticed amid the hundreds of billions that are being allocated.

The earmark that Lott and Cochran have come up with is the largest in the history of the Congress. And it may well be the sleaziest.

The railroad line that's slated for removal is in great shape. And no one seriously suggests that moving it a slight distance will make it significantly more secure if a hurricane hits the region – as they regularly do. So why is the federal treasury being raided to pay for the relocation?

The CSX freight line is in the way of a grand plan by wealthy, politically-connected developers in Mississippi to erect new casinos and hotels along the beaches that were just devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They want to move a perfectly good railroad line to open up land so that they can, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor , "turn Mississippi's struggling Gulf Coast into Las Vegas South."

That's right. Lott and Cochran, who when they aren't bragging about their "fiscal conservatism" are busy preaching about the need to restore "moral values" to America, are grabbing $700 million from federal taxpayers to clear the way for a new Sin City.

Some will cry "hypocrisy." A better description is "business as usual" in Republican-run Washington.

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