How Did Overweight Senate Spending Bill Get So Fat?

Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

The Senate has approved a $109 billion emergency-spending bill for combat operations in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina relief — $17 billion more than the White House requested.

The bill is stuffed with pet projects, including $6 million for two Hawaii sugar plantations, $20 million to assist New England shellfishermen affected by a red tide outbreak and $30 million to stop bark beetles from eating Rocky Mountain pine trees.

Mississippi's Republicans Trent Lott and Thad Cochran are behind the bill's biggest expense — a $700 million project to divert a Gulf Coast railroad to make way for a new highway. Lott says the move will protect the railroad from future hurricanes.

But critics note that the tracks were just repaired after Hurricane Katrina at a cost of $300 million, and are calling the project "the railroad to nowhere."

Free Speech for Some?

The American Civil Liberties Union is dedicated to defending free speech, but may soon ban board members from publicly speaking out against the organization.

The ACLU's committee on standards is proposing that individual directors, "should refrain from publicly highlighting" disagreements with the board, warning that "public airing of the disagreement will affect the ACLU adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising." Board members tell The New York Times it's too early to discuss the proposal, but former board member Nat Hentoff called it a "gag order," saying, "I can't think of anything more contrary to the reason the ACLU exists."

Draft Gore Movement

Readers of the Internet's largest and most influential liberal Web blog overwhelmingly want Al Gore as the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. Sixty-eight percent of respondents in a survey preferred Gore — who has said he's not considering a run for the White House.

In a separate survey without the former vice president, liberal Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold handily defeated General Wesley Clark and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner with 44 percent of the vote. Presumptive Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton garnered less than 3 percent in both polls.

What's more, 25 percent of readers at Democratic blog,, named Clinton their least favorite potential candidate over Senator Joseph Biden and former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Presidential Defense

New School President and former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey is now defending the students who heckled and interrupted Arizona Republican Senator John McCain's commencement address at the school last week, including the student who took the stage to personally attack McCain.

On the Huffington Post, Kerrey called the students — quote — "rude, noisy, and disrespectful," but claimed their behavior was no worse than "the absence of civility and courtesy" shown by McCain during hard-fought Senate debates.

Kerrey also compared his students to pro-Democracy demonstrators in China's Tiananmen Square, adding that the protesters showed remarkable self-restraint by allowing McCain to complete his address at all.

—FOX News Channel's Aaron Bruns contributed to this report.