In this era of vicious partisanship America's lawmakers have proved there's still one thing Democrats and Republicans can come together to support: pork. After an overwhelming vote in the House on Nov. 6, it was expected that a united Congress would override a veto for the first time in George W. Bush's presidency. The legislation that inspired this unprecedented alliance did not involve children's health or the Iraq war but rather was a bill stuffed with new Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
Bush vetoed the measure because of its Bizarro World price tag, which split the difference between a $14 billion House version and a $15 billion Senate version with a $23 billion consensus bill. Defenders say it has been seven years since Congress approved flood-control projects, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has championed the bill. But the corps already has a more than $50 billion backlog of unfinished projects, and investigations had exposed its dysfunctional habits--wasting money, draining wetlands, cooking its books to justify boondoggles--long before its bungling drowned New Orleans. Still, corps projects are a form of currency on Capitol Hill, a way to flex political muscle even if they never get funded. And this latest pork platter approves $4 billion worth of work for the Everglades and coastal Louisiana, so even environmentalists who usually despise the corps joined special-interest porkers in attacking Bush's veto.
I'm sympathetic. I wrote both a book on the Everglades and a TIME cover story on coastal Louisiana. But Congress might not fund the new Everglades projects. And one of the new Louisiana projects would actually destroy more valuable coastal wetlands. Environmentalists should know they'll never fix the Everglades or coastal Louisiana without fixing the corps. But even they enjoy the smell of pork--when it's theirs.