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All aboard the U.S.S. Pork!

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If a bankrupt cruise company, its half-finished ships and taxpayers left holding the bill don't spell opportunity to you, you're just not ready for Capitol Hill. A $1.1 billion federal loan guarantee was pushed through Congress in 1999 to help American Classic Voyages build cruise ships in Senator Trent Lott's hometown of Pascagoula, Miss. The company hit the rocks last fall, citing a decline in tourism due to terrorism and leaving its debts unpaid and its ships at the dock. Republican Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi came up with a plan to solve this pork-barrel mess: more pork barrel. Taylor wants the U.S. Navy, already strapped for cash trying to keep its dwindling fleet of 320 warships afloat, to spend several hundred million dollars to buy the cruise ships. Taylor got language added to the 2002 defense bill suggesting the Navy finish the vessels and put them out to sea as a morale booster for troops. The clause reads that the sea service should consider buying vessels "under construction in a U.S. shipyard" for leisure use, housing or a command ship. Though it doesn't mention the ships in Pascagoula, they're the only ones that fit the bill. The Secretary of the Navy last week said he would consider the idea, but it's "probably a stretch."


Cover Date: January 28, 2002


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