Another problem from pork barrel spending

Congressional pork-barrel highway projects are worsening traffic gridlock rather than clearing it up.

The Texas Transportation Institute says that its analysis of congestion in 75 cities shows that gridlock has steadily increased since 1982, even though Congress has approved massive increases in highway spending with special projects aimed at untangling overloaded highways. More than 55 percent of the nation’s highway system today is gridlocked in peak rush-hour periods.

Paul Gessing of the National Taxpayers Union blames Congress and says Washington doesn’t have the expertise to iron out the difficulties. Gessing says pouring more money into politically chosen projects doesn’t help, and Washington lawmakers need to turn over highway planning to experts in local and state governments.

Veterinarians are lobbying Congress for federal regulation of large puppy mills. Henry Childers, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says there’s no morals or ethics in the business today run by many high-volume breeders and dog importers, and federal regulation is needed so that U.S. Department of Agriculture animal-welfare officers can ensure breeders are meeting minimal-care standards.

Republican leaders are now saying publicly what everyone in Washington has been saying privately for months: Social Security reform is dead.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting that he spent hours trying to hammer out compromise legislation, but found no middle ground. “I can’t even get consensus among Republicans,” he said.

Stay tuned. Grassley predicts the issue will be back after the 2008 presidential election.

Look for another round of base closings in a few years. The ink is hardly dry on the latest and fifth round _ to shutter 21 major installations _ but the Pentagon brass moans that there still are many expensive Navy and Air Force bases left open. Expect the generals and admirals to plead for Congress to OK another round.

As a teenager, Sam Alito was a Philadelphia Phillies fanatic who remembers well the team’s disastrous efforts to win the pennant in the 1964 season. So does Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., a Baseball Hall of Famer who once pitched for the team.

So it’s little surprise that after exchanging views on what happened more than four decades ago when the two met by chance in a Senate men’s room, Bunning said he likes Alito. “I couldn’t think of anybody better to serve on the Supreme Court than Samuel Alito,” Bunning said.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell is launching a seasonal advertising campaign vowing to keep Christmas as a religious holiday. “Celebrating Christmas is constitutional,” said Falwell, who is trying to enlist tens of thousands of pastors from various denominations to fight the trend to secularize the holiday.

The Environmental Protection Agency is establishing its own clandestine service. The EPA says it needs its new “national security and intelligence office” to coordinate unspecified activities with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and to deal with “matters related to classified and other sensitive information” that also are not publicly specified.

Buried in next year’s spending bill for energy and water projects are some 618 special-interest projects that Citizens Against Government Waste estimates will cost taxpayers $1.5 billion. These include $500,000 for the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center in California, $17 million for the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway in Louisiana, $500,000 to study immersive technologies at the University of Louisiana and $1.5 million for research into how wind power could help frigid Alaska generate electricity.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)