Tax cuts and two wars leave no room for the Columbia River projectIf ever there were a good time for the Northwest congressional delegation to gracefully abandon the problematic plan to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel, this is it. Last week's news that the project is not in the president's budget is the opportunity.

For a decade, regional senators and representatives in both parties have been lurching around like Igor trying to shock some life into this monster, even as more and more of we villagers gather pitchforks and torches in opposition.

Like all or most of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' other navigation projects around the nation, Columbia deepening relies on an unholy alliance between Big Labor, Big Business and Big Politicos, while Asian shipping interests watch in bemusement, knowing that they would be the biggest beneficiary.

In much the same way every big city becomes convinced it absolutely must have new publicly funded football and baseball stadiums, each major port becomes sold on the idea it must have a deeper/bigger/better connection to the ocean.

While the chamber of commerce-types push navigation projects from one direction, unions such as the longshoremen and pulp and paper workers push from another, having been convinced job security depends on this empty keeping-up-with-the-Jones struggle.

It's a rare politician willing to say no to both big business and organized labor, especially after you throw in all the other vested interests that worship deeper shipping channels, including barge operators and shippers of bulk commodities like grain.

This amounts to a perfect storm of lobbying power. As a result, even otherwise thoughtful senators and representatives adopt these boondoggles.

Presidents have been trying for years to regain some control over the Corps of Engineers and its web of influence. With little success: Even supposed fiscal conservatives behave like shoplifters in a blind man's store when it comes to responsible management of corps' projects.

But thanks to massive tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars during an anemic economic recovery, the Bush budget deficits are beginning to leave no room for absurdities like deepening canals to ports a hundred miles inland.

Bush's people last week labeled Columbia deepening a "new start," meaning it won't be in his budget. It consequently relies on congressional luck and guts for whatever funds it receives.

Washington's and Oregon's senators and representatives should direct their attention and energy to our nation's far more important issues and spending priorities.

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