Beckmann: Obama builds Michigan a bridge to nowhere

The Detroit News
Frank Beckmann

In the classic old movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a group of prisoner-of-war British engineers is forced by Japanese captors during World War II to build a passage over the waterway so the Japanese can strategically move military supplies.

The Brits eventually sabotage the bridge with explosives and near the film’s end, British senior officer Lt. Col. L. Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness), is fatally wounded but as he stumbles toward his death, he falls on the detonator, destroying the bridge, after reciting the memorable line, “What have I done?”

The scene comes to mind as we receive word that President Barack Obama failed to include in this week’s federal budget request the $250 million necessary to build a U.S. customs plaza to allow Canadian-funded construction for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” aka the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

Ground can’t be broken on Gov. Rick Snyder’s pet project without that federal aid and Snyder has returned from several bridge-related visits to Washington believing federal support was a foregone conclusion for the NITC, which has bipartisan support because of the job growth and increased economic activity the bridge promises to create.

But Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget proposal included no mention of the necessary funding for the NITC customs plaza, leaving the Detroit bridge project in limbo while even the Canadians grow impatient to spend their $2.1 billion to build the span.

Obama found the dollars to fund $115 million in federal government construction projects to build the IRS a new computer center in Detroit — all the better to limit tea party deductions with — and to refurbish the U.S. courthouse here.

He also wants to spend over $300 million to hire an additional 2,000 customs agents, who Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York says will ease backups on his state’s Peace Bridge to Canada.

Add in $90 million to continue studying rare isotope beams at Michigan State University and millions more to continue studying alternative-fuel vehicles that Americans don’t want to buy, and you’ve got enough money to pay for the customs plaza and break ground on the NITC.

Don’t get me wrong; all those items in the budget might have merit, however none of them, individually or collectively, carry the promise of jobs and economic growth that come with “The Bridge on the River Detroit.”

On the surface, omission of the bridge-related funding in Obama’s budget seems like a surprise, but this is an election year so, 1. Don’t be surprised, and 2. Don’t be concerned.

The NITC funding omission reeks of politics, especially with the immediate statement after the budget proposal was released that Michigan Congressman Gary Peters believes this “was a grave oversight, but we can work together to make this customs plaza a reality.”

How convenient.

Peters happens to be running for the U.S. Senate and polls show him trailing Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land.

The congressman also faces the daunting prospect of defending his all-in support for Obamacare where he repeated the president’s untrue promise that Americans who like their health care plans can keep them.

Peters has also introduced legislation to fund the customs plaza project.

So Obama, who says retaining Democratic control of the Senate is his chief aim, conveniently leaves out of his budget what amounts to a pittance of spending in the overall scheme of things, and leaves the work of getting the project on track to his Michigan Senate candidate, Gary Peters, who can claim the NITC as his own success story if the funding comes later — say in October, before the elections.

While we’ll never find a smoking gun to prove collusion between Peters and Obama on such a plot, we’re reminded that there are no coincidences in politics.

And if money is later forthcoming for “The Bridge on the River Detroit,” the NITC will be known as the project saved by Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, not by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

That would leave the GOP to recite the final line from a character in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” — “Madness! … Madness!”

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).

Originally posted by The Detroit News