Republican presidential candidate John McCain is using one of Senator Chuck Grassley’s pet projects — the "EarthPark" — as an example of the kind of "pork" that he wants to cut out of the federal budget.
Grassley helped secure a $50 million federal grant for construction of an indoor rain forest and education center. It’s a project critics have labeled "EarthPork."
McCain says the project’s part of a "corrupt" system of "earmarks" which let members of congress get federal financing for pet projects without much, if any, public scrutiny beforehand. "Something like that got into an appropriations bill without a vote or even without much knowledge of members of congress," McCain told reporters.
During a town hall forum in Ankeny on Saturday, McCain singled out the Earthpark project for ridicule. "Do you think that even the people of Iowa would think that we need an indoor rain forest in Iowa?" McCain asked the crowd of over 100.
McCain argued spending on that pork barrell "earmark" project and others diverted money that would have been better spent elsewhere, for instance on inspecting the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis.
"Maybe if we’d have done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country," McCain said. "Maybe, maybe the 200,000 people that cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your taxdollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it."
That now-infamous "bridge to nowhere" has become one of McCain’s favorite examples of wasteful government spending. "The next time that one of your congressmen or senators brags about a pork barrel project he got for ya, remember whose money it was and find out whether you wanted it," McCain said. "…I’m angry today because we just had a chance to reform this process in Washington and we punted."
Senator Grassley has repeatedly bristled at critics of his $50 million federal grant for the EarthPark. Last fall, Grassley was livid when Chet Culver and his runningmate wore rain gear in a campaign ad ridiculing the project.
"My mother…always referred to some people who didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain," Grassley said, dragging out his pronunciations of the word rain. "They were standing in the rain, weren’t they?"
EarthPark backers, by the way, selected a site near Pella for their project, but have not yet raised the private funds necessary and may have to return the $50 million to the federal government.