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He and his friends in MN are sort of(?) backing off. The AP writes:

McCain backs off waste as cause of bridge collapse
By LIBBY QUAID Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Thursday backed off his assertion that pork-barrel spending led to last year’s deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

With Democrats criticizing him for citing wasteful spending as the cause of the disaster, McCain told reporters in Cleveland, ”No, I said it would have received a higher priority, which it deserved.”

That statement was in contrast to McCain’s remarks to reporters aboard his campaign bus as it rolled through Pennsylvania on Wednesday: ”The bridge in Minneapolis didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money. The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects.”

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board suspect a design flaw _ undersize steel plates _ and heavy loads of construction materials as the cause of the disaster Aug. 1, according to preliminary findings.

Democrats accused McCain of using a tragedy that killed 13 people and injured 145 others to make a political point.

”The last thing we need is a misinformed presidential aspirant posturing at our expense,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., said, ”He is manipulating a tragedy that took 13 lives in order to advance his election campaign.”

Even Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said McCain was wrong.

”The bridge didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money,” Coleman said during a conference call with reporters.

”I understand Senator McCain’s deep concern about earmarks,” he said. ”In this instance, I simply think he’s wrong if he somehow ties the collapse of the bridge to a funding issue. Let’s get the full data.”

The remarks also put Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty _ a national co-chairman of McCain’s campaign and potential vice presidential running mate _ in an awkward position. In January, Pawlenty had admonished critics to ”quit exploiting the bridge tragedy to advance their political agenda.”

Pawlenty struck a more cautious tone Thursday. ”I don’t know what he’s basing that on, other than the general premise that projects got misprioritized throughout time,” he said. ”We have to let the NTSB weigh in on this before anybody can make a final conclusion.”

On Thursday, McCain said he was worried most about safety.

”All I can do to respond to those critics is, my job is to make America as safe as possible,” he told reporters. ”My job is to prevent those tragedies, such as the canal that was dug in New Orleans that brought the hurricane up and did more damage to New Orleans.”

The New Orleans project was paid for with a congressional ”earmark,” funding that lawmakers slip into spending bills outside of the regular funding process.

McCain promises to rid the federal budget of earmarks if he is elected, because he says earmarks take money away from much-needed transportation projects and other priorities.

”And I maintain, again, that I believe that when we fund a bridge to Alaska, fund a highway in Florida that the people there don’t even want, then money is diverted from that much-needed project,” he said.

”Do I know specifically whether it would have replaced that bridge in Minneapolis? No, but I know that funding would have been available for higher-priority projects,” he said.

When he made the earlier statement, McCain was criticizing Democratic rival Barack Obama for opposing his idea of a summer holiday from federal gas taxes. The other Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, supports the proposal.

Obama opposes it because federal gas taxes go into a highway fund for building roads and bridges.

”Remember that bridge in Minneapolis?” Obama said in Indiana last week. ”We’re already short on money in terms of investing.”


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