Republican John McCain said Wednesday that the bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people last year would not have happened if Congress had not wasted so much money on pork-barrel spending.
Federal investigators cite undersize steel plates as the "critical factor" in the collapse of the bridge. Heavy loads of construction materials on the bridge also contributed to the disaster that injured 145 people on Aug. 1, according to preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.
"The bridge in Minneapolis didn't collapse because there wasn't enough money," McCain told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania. "The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects."
McCain, the expected GOP presidential nominee, regularly rails against "earmarks," the pet projects that lawmakers tuck into spending bills, such as the proposed $223 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
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The Arizona senator says he would eliminate earmarks, estimated at $18 billion last year, and would make each project compete in the regular congressional funding process.
"I think there is a long, long list of earmarks which went to unnecessary and unwanted projects that I think should have gone to the bridge in Minnesota," McCain said. "I don't know whether it would have gone or not, but if you're spending $223 million on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it ..."
Democrats criticized McCain's comments. "It is reprehensible that John McCain would use a national tragedy to make a political point that isn't even grounded in facts," said Damien LaVera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
McCain also criticized earmarks for projects in New Orleans that didn't help protect the city from Hurricane Katrina, saying a congressional earmark helped to dig a channel outside New Orleans that helped speed the hurricane into the city.
McCain said such projects "have everything to do with the power and influence of an individual congressman or senator and has nothing to do with the actual transportation needs of the United States."
On the same day, McCain was confronted with an earmark he did consider worthy. During a forum at Lehigh Valley Hospital, he met a woman with ovarian cancer who was treated in a clinical trial funded with $80 million in congressional earmarks.
The hospital was showing off an electronic medical records system that is virtually paper-free.
McCain insisted he was not trying to have it both ways and said that deserving projects can get money through regular channels.
"It's the process I object to," he said. "I'm sure that I can give you a list of projects the Mafia funds, and they would probably be good projects. But I can't give you a justification for the Mafia. I can't give you a justification for the corruption that's been bred which has sent members of Congress to the federal prison," he said.
"Look, if we reform the process, then the money will take care of itself. It's a corrupt process," he said.