By Alexander Bolton - 11/17/05 12:00 AM EST
An enraged Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) confronted Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) last week, excoriating them for lampooning his notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” as a multibillion-dollar boondoggle.
The chairman of the Transportation Committee had caught wind that the $223 million bridge was indeed going nowhere — and most House members learned yesterday that the project, which has caused Republicans acute embarrassment for two months, is being killed. So is another span, the $229 million “Don Young Way.”
According to witnesses, Young warned Flake and Musgrave that he planned to stay in Congress a long time and would not forget the stinging defeat.
The confrontation with Young occurred at a closed-door meeting last Thursday
House leaders have killed the project by adding language to the transportation appropriations bill erasing instructions funding the bridge that were in the authorization bill Congress passed this summer. Local Alaska officials now have a free hand to decide how to spend the more than $400 million slated for the bridges.
One lawmaker who attended the meeting of about 20-30 members of the House Resources Committee, who were discussing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and along the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), said Young called Flake “ungentlemanly” and, “out of the blue,” hurled angry words at Musgrave, another fiscal hawk.
Another lawmaker present said Young directed more fire at other members at the meeting for not defending the projects, derogatively referred to as “pork,” in the transportation bill, despite having received millions of dollars in funding for projects in their districts.
He would not forget the slights accompanying the loss of his project, Young reportedly said.
Young has done a better job of keeping his cool in public. When asked by a local reporter recently about Flake’s efforts to kill the bridge, Young responded nonchalantly: “He hasn’t got any traction. He’s a dog lying on the ice right now. He’s scratching a lot, but he doesn’t go anywhere,” according to a report published Tuesday in the Anchorage Daily News.
Young yesterday refused to discuss the bridge or his blowup, fending off a reporter by showing the back of his hand.
His spokesman confined himself to confirming that his boss was “disappointed the earmark was taken out.”
Flake told reporters yesterday that he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Young and actually stood up during yesterday morning’s House Republican Conference meeting to defend Young and urge his colleagues not to pick on him.
One colleague noted the odd dynamic between the white-bearded, cantankerous, “flamboyant and direct” Young and Flake, who is a young-looking 42 and is notably cool.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) said he recalled touring Alaska with Young when the Alaskan read a comment by Flake to a newspaper that he was not elected to “shine Don Young’s shoes.” Gilchrest said Young laughed “hysterically.”
Flake was instrumental in stoking fervor among Republicans for killing the Ketchikan bridge. He recently sent Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) a package of 158 press clips referring to the bridge to show his leader that the project had become a major public-relations headache.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference and head of the House GOP “Theme Team”, also told the Speaker that the bridge was becoming a growing political liability. At a Tuesday-evening meeting of the House leadership, Kingston illustrated his point by holding up an issue of Parade magazine that featured the bridge on its front cover, according to a GOP source familiar with the meeting. Hastert told Kingston that GOP leaders had decided that it was time to delete the bridge from law.
Compared to Young, Sen. Ted Stevens (R), Alaska’s senior senator, has seemed relatively sanguine about the fate of the bridge, despite threatening to resign from the Senate last month if his colleagues cut funding for it to pay for a damaged interstate highway in Louisiana. That may be because Alaska will still get the money previously earmarked for the bridges.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who with Young put together the transportation authorization bill, said that merely the name of the bridge had been deleted. He noted that Alaska would still get the money. Inhofe said that Stevens supported the proposal he showed him deleting reference to the bridge in the authorization bill.
Stevens’s office did not respond to a request for comment.