A principle as old as Congress is that once a bill is passed it is final. But strange things do happen, and one of those is causing furor on Capitol Hill.
The 2005 highway bill contained an earmark for $10 million to widen and improve Interstate 75 in Ft. Myers, Fla. After the bill was passed by both the House and the Senate but before it went to the president, staffers for GOP Rep. Don Young, like his fellow Alaska lawmakers a master of the pork process, changed the earmark to fund an interchange on I-75. That would have benefited developers who had raised $40,000 for Young and who owned 4,000 acres next to the proposed interchange.
When the change came to light, many lawmakers were outraged. Thursday, by a bipartisan margin of 64 to 28, the Senate voted to ask for a federal criminal investigation. If there was a precedent for the request, no one could immediately recall it.
Young says he backed the interchange because of community support but news accounts say the local county planning board is opposed to it and has rejected money for the interchange three times.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sees the Senate vote as an unconstitutional intrusion on her turf. The House leadership believes it’s a matter for the House ethics committee, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he’s been asking the committee for a year to investigate.
The earmark was returned to its original language in a bill passed earlier by the House and this week, 88 to 2 by the Senate. The investigation may not go anywhere since the lawmakers have a lot of other things to do. And the earmarks? They’ll survive, and quite likely strange things will continue to happen.