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Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 1999 /24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

David Corn

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Do Congressmen "Make" on the Truth? -- Last week, as House Republicans skirmished with President Clinton over the spending bills not yet passed, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the man truly in charge of GOP strategy in the House, appeared with several Republican representatives outside the Capitol to defend their proposal for an across-the-board one-percent cut in the federal budget. Surely, DeLay and his cohorts hooted, we can find one percent of waste in government spending. One of his minions, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, held up a penny to make the point. The GOPers were trying for an easy way out of a budget jam–in which they were indeed using Social Security surplus funds to pay for their appropriations bills, despite their loud claims they were not–by attempting to pass a government-wide cut, rather than identify what really should be defunded. (Why didn’t they take McCain’s advice and cut those billions of dollars in Pentagon pork?) And they were unabashedly playing the Washington symbol game.

As DeLay wore a crocodile smile, his comrade, South Dakota Rep. John Thune, declared that the National Park Service had spent $1 million on an "outhouse" in Montana’s Glacier National Park. DeLay has repeatedly mentioned this supposed travesty of government spending as he drums up support for his mindless spending cuts. After all, a $1 million outhouse does sounds outrageous. That is, until you check.

A call to the Interior Dept. revealed that what Thune, DeLay and the others have been calling an "outhouse" is actually a water treatment facility for the Sperry Chalet, a 17-room hotel/hostel for visitors hiking through the park’s back country. The 86-year-old chalet lacked a waste-water disposal facility that conformed to EPA regulations. The park service initially deemed construction of such a facility too expensive and scheduled the chalet for demolition. (It had razed four other chalets needing repairs.) But local citizens protested the destruction of this landmark, and their elected officials succeeded in obtaining funds to save the chalet. Most of the million-dollar bill covered helicopter transport of materials to a construction site, which is inaccessible by road. The $1 million water-treatment facility allowed the Sperry Chalet to remain in operation without polluting the park.

Spending that permits Americans to visit and appreciate wilderness sites usually deserves applause. DeLay’s infantile exploitation of the "million-dollar outhouse" is proof that he is all too willing to toss the truth into the toilet.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press. His latest book is Deep Background.

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