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Posts Tagged ‘coburn’

Coburn’s Wastebook: It’s a start

Posted by Richard on December 18, 2013

Back in September, Nancy Pelosi claimed there was nothing left to cut in the federal budget:

“The cupboard is bare. There’s no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

That should have been PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. (“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” should have been their Lie of the Year in 2009 or 2010 when it was fresh, but back then they were busy calling Obamacare critics liars.)

If Pelosi’s claim didn’t immediately strike you as patently absurd — or if it did, but you want to get fired up by some of the evidence to the contrary — check out Sen. Tom Coburn’s 177-page “Wastebook 2013,” available for online reading or download at Scribd. (Don’t let the table of contents fool you. For some reason it’s truncated to the first 10 examples of government waste; the book catalogs 100.) It’s certainly not an exhaustive catalog of all the crap that’s still in the federal cupboard. I’m sure it could be expanded ten-fold and still not be exhaustive. But the Senator and his staff can’t spend all their time on this annual project. It’s a good start. The waste it documents totals $30 billion.

One of my favorite (if that’s the right word) examples of wasteful spending is the Commerce Department’s “let me Google that for you” agency (#8 on p. 16 of the Wastebook). Other government agencies and departments spend millions of dollars a year buying copies of “government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information” and reports from Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS).  But (footnotes omitted):

Required by law to be largely self-sustaining, NTIS charges other federal agencies to access its collection of reports. However, a November 2012 review of the office by GAO uncovered that about three-quarters of the reports in the NTIS archives were available from other public sources. Specifically, “GAO estimated that approximately 621,917, or about 74 percent, of the 841,502 reports were readily available from one of the other four publicly available sources GAO searched.”
GAO explains, “The source that most often had the reports GAO was searching for was another website located at” In addition, reports could be found on the website of the issuing federal department, the Government Printing Office’s website, or

Two others are worth bringing to the attention of all those hawkish conservatives and Republicans who sound like Nancy Pelosi when it comes to the Defense Department, insisting that too much has already been cut and the military cupboard is bare.

First, there’s #7 in the Wastebook (p. 14). The US is winding down operations in Afghanistan. What to do with all that expensive equipment we sent there? (footnotes omitted)

The military has decided to simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home.
“We have a lot of stuff there. Inevitably, we overbought,” stated Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and former defense official in the Clinton administration. “We always do when we go to war.”
Why just not leave the excess equipment in country for use by the Afghan military? A major concern is that Afghanistan’s forces would be unable to maintain it. Moreover, there is worry the defense industry might suffer if the Pentagon unloads tons of used equipment on the market at vastly reduced prices. This should be viewed as market correction and a positive outcome of the drawdown, not a reason to send valuable equipment to the scrap heap.

Among the items to be shredded are thousands of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which cost half a million dollars apiece.

Then there’s #10 (p. 20), which is also vaguely Afghanistan-related (footnotes omitted):

In an era of technological advances that make the machines of war smaller and more agile, the Army spent three and a half years developing a football field-sized blimp that would provide continuous surveillance of the Afghan battlefield – called by some an “unblinking eye.”
In 2013, however, the Army closed the blimp’s eye forever when it brought the project to a halt after spending nearly $300 million. The Army sold the airship back to the contractor that was building it for just $301,000.

The unmanned blimp was supposed to be able to fly above 20,000 ft. and remain aloft for 21 days at a time, but was grossly overweight and never came close to meeting those criteria. Not to mention far behind schedule and over budget.

In addition to the cost and schedule mishaps, some noted how the blimp had an uncertain mission with the Afghan war winding down.
It was not the first airship to be grounded by the military, however.
According to Defense News, “The Defense Department has spent more than $1 billion on at least nine programs in recent years, yet the military owns just one working airship, a piloted Navy blimp called MZ-3A, which is used for research.”

There are 97 more examples, and I’ve only skimmed a bit over half of them. Some have price tags in the millions or billions, while others are “merely” one or two hundred thousand dollars. But to paraphrase the late Sen. Dirksen, a hundred thousand  here, there, and in tens of thousands of other places adds up to real money.

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Support the earmark moratorium

Posted by Richard on November 13, 2010

*** UPDATE (11/15): Sen. McConnell has felt the heat and seen the light. ***

Next Tuesday, we'll find out how many Republican senators have learned the lesson of the last four years. That's when the GOP Conference votes on Sen. DeMint's earmark moratorium. House Republicans are solidly behind the pork moratorium. But in the Senate, minority leader Mitch McConnell seems to be quietly trying to line up opposition to DeMint's proposal. And he seems to have support from the usual suspects — Inhofe, Graham, Alexander, Shelby, and other members of the Republican wing of the Ruling Class.

On Wednesday in National Review's The Corner, Sen. Tom Coburn laid out the case against earmarks and demolished the specious arguments of the Ruling Class Republicans defending them. Here are some excerpts from his column (emphasis added): 

It’s true that earmarks themselves represent a tiny portion of the budget, but a small rudder can help steer a big ship, which is why I’ve long described earmarks as the gateway drug to spending addiction in Washington. No one can deny that earmarks like the Cornhusker Kickback have been used to push through extremely costly and onerous bills. Plus, senators know that as the number of earmarks has exploded so has overall spending. In the past decade, the size of government has doubled while Congress approved more than 90,000 earmarks.

Earmarks were rare until recently. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it contained 121 earmarks. Eliminating earmarks will not balance the budget overnight, but it is an important step toward getting spending under control. 

… This is not a struggle between the executive branch and Congress but between the American people and Washington. … An earmark ban would tell the American people that Congress gets it. After all, it’s their money, not ours.

An earmark moratorium would not result in Congress giving up one iota of its spending power. In any event, Republicans should be fighting over how to cut government spending, not how to divide it up.

Our founders anticipated earmark-style power grabs from Congress and spoke against such excess for the ages. …

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, spoke directly against federally-funded local projects. “[I]t will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Jefferson understood that earmarks and coercion would go hand in hand.

If any policy mandate can be derived from the election it is to spend less money. Eliminating earmarks is the first step on that path. The House GOP has accepted that mandate. The Senate GOP now has to decide whether to ignore not only the American people but their colleagues in the House. …

In recent years the conventional wisdom that earmarks create jobs has been turned on its head. The Obama administration’s stimulus bill itself, which is arguably a collection of earmarks approved by Congress, proves this point. Neither Obama’s stimulus nor Republican stimulus — GOP earmarks — is very effective at creating jobs.

Harvard University conducted an extensive study this year of how earmarks impact states. The researchers expected to find that earmarks drive economic growth but found the opposite.

“It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman’s state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending,” said Joshua Coval, one of the study’s authors. The study found that as earmarks increase capital investment and expenditures by private businesses decrease, by 15 percent specifically. In other words, federal pork crowds out private investment and slows job growth. Earmarks are an odd GOP infatuation with failed Keynesian economics that hurts local economies.

FreedomWorks' Now We Must Govern project is tracking where GOP senators and senators-elect stand on this issue. A link on that page takes you to their "Call Congress: Ban Earmarks!" action page. If one of your senators has not yet taken a stand on earmarks (most haven't; not even those secretly working against the DeMint proposal), please take a minute to call their office or send an email and politely demand that they honor the wishes of the American people and renounce pork. 

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Boxer tries to stop Coburn from delivering babies for free

Posted by Richard on August 19, 2008

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has long been a taxpayer hero and a thorn in the side of the porkmeisters and spendthrifts. Along with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Richard Burr (R-NC), he received a 100% score on the Club for Growth's 2007 Senate RePORK Card, voting for 15 of 15 anti-pork amendments.

In fact, Coburn introduced many of these amendments. And he's a non-partisan enemy of earmarks, corrupt backscratching, and profligate spending — when Republicans controlled the Senate, he fought against his own party leadership just as hard. It was Coburn who tried to block Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK, Indicted) infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," prompting Stevens to threaten to resign if Coburn's amendment passed. Now that he's been indicted, maybe some of the Republicans who helped defeat the amendment wish they'd taken Stevens up on his offer.

So why is Sen. Barbara Boxer's Ethics Committee going after Coburn? Because the senator, an obstetrician who prefers to be called "Dr. Coburn," is supposedly guilty of an ethics violation for delivering the babies of poor and at-risk Oklahoma women — for free. 

Coburn used to charge just enough to cover his costs, something he'd been doing since serving in the House with its Ethics Committee's blessing. That wasn't good enough for the Senate Ethics Committee, which has taken time out from investigating sweetheart loans for senators to go after Coburn. Debra Saunders thinks she knows why:

The Senate Ethics Committee allows big-buck book deals for U.S. senators, but in a May memorandum, it told Coburn, "you are allowed to practice medicine if you provide such services for free." So he started working for nothing.

Even free wasn't good enough. After the Muskogee Regional Medical Center, where he practices, was taken over by a for-profit operation, the committee told Coburn to cease "providing any and all medical services" by June 22, pursuant to Senate Rule 37 on conflicts of interest. Coburn could practice medicine only as a solo practitioner, for a private entity that provides services for free, or for a government or tribal health facility.

What's really going on here? The senator — who prefers to be called Dr. Coburn — has been a thorn in the side of both big-spending Republicans and Democrats. He calls earmarks "the gateway drug" to Washington's spending addiction. …

The savvy observer has to conclude that because Coburn has challenged Senate pork, the Ethics Committee essentially is willing to stick it to poor pregnant women, who might benefit from a free delivery.

It's a tactical blunder. If the committee continues to push for a public reprimand, Coburn has the right to ask for a full Senate vote. While Boxer may not mind coming across as petty and vindictive, other senators might hesitate before publicly bullying a man for delivering babies for free.

As Coburn spokesman John Hart noted, there have been many stories about lawmakers, their friends and families profiting from earmarks, but "no one has ever chosen to have Dr. Coburn deliver her baby in order to sway his vote."

Regardless of what you think of his politics (and I love his fiscal conservatism, but am put off by his social conservatism), Sen. Coburn is clearly one of the cleanest members of Congress. For the Senate Ethics Committee to divert its attention from the many members larding up bills with earmarks, doing favors for campaign contributers, getting below-market loans, etc., etc., in order to go after Dr. Coburn for delivering babies for free — well, it's an outrage. 

If you're represented by a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, please let them know what you think of this clearly vindictive and outrageous harrassment of Sen. (Dr.) Coburn. The committee members are Sens. Boxer (D-CA), Pryor (D-AK), Salazar (D-CO), Cornyn (R-TX), Roberts (R-KS), and Isakson (R-GA).

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Good election news

Posted by Richard on November 8, 2006

As regular reades no doubt could guess, I’m not exactly cheerful about spending the next two years hearing about Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel, and Judiciary Chair John Conyers. And I’m disappointed by the departure of Rumsfeld. Nevertheless, I’m basically a "glass half-full" sort of guy, and I think there’s some good news related to yesterday’s elections.

One big bright spot: the property rights protection movement racked up an impressive string of victories. Ten of twelve ballot measures passed, and eight of them are constitutional amendments (one victory, Louisiana, was in September). Only California and Idaho defeated citizen initiatives dealing with eminent domain. They were thrilled yesterday at the Institute for Justice:

“Election Day usually reveals how polarized public opinion can be as campaigns focus on highly divisive issues.  Today, however, the vast majority of voters across the country all agreed that the fundamental right to property must be protected,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners in Kelo before the Supreme Court.  “Citizens around the nation agree that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo was wrong.  As we’re seeing tonight’s results, this issue cuts across party lines, state borders and socioeconomic levels.”

“The American people are furious their property rights are up for grabs to the highest bidder,” said senior attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case for the Institute.  “They understand that the U.S. Supreme Court declared open season on everyone’s property and the resulting momentum for eminent domain reform shows no sign of slowing.  The significant margins in the votes today show just how wrong a narrow majority of the Supreme Court was.”

The margins were truly significant, typically three or four to one.

Here’s another bit of good news: Dennis Hastert won’t run for minority leader. I’ve made clear my low opinion of Hastert. I think he bears much of the blame for the Republican losses. Hastert helped create the "culture of corruption" by dismantling the 1994 ethics and accountability reforms. His lack of principles, inarticulateness, and focus on wielding the levers of power helped create the widespread distrust of the Republican Party.

If the Republicans really have been chastened and want to mend their ways, in January they’ll follow Human Events’ advice and elect Mike Pence minority leader. Furthermore, they should correct a mistake they made when DeLay departed and pick John Shadegg over Roy Blunt for the number two post, minority whip.

More good news came via Josh Poulson, who argued that the GOP lost because it "abandoned its libertarian wing," and cited a couple of interesting related items. One is this post at about the growing clout of Libertarians:

GLUM Republicans might turn their attention to the Libertarian Party to vent their anger. Libertarians are a generally Republican-leaning constituency, but over the last few years, their discontent has grown plain. It isn’t just the war, which some libertarians supported, but the corruption and insider dealing, and particularly the massive expansion of spending. Mr Bush’s much-vaunted prescription drug benefit for seniors, they fume, has opened up another gaping hole in America’s fiscal situation, while the only issue that really seemed to energise congress was passing special laws to keep a brain-damaged woman on life support.

In two of the seats where control looks likely to switch, Missouri and Montana, the Libertarian party pulled more votes than the Democratic margin of victory. Considerably more, in Montana. If the Libertarian party hadn’t been on the ballot, and the three percent of voters who pulled the "Libertarian" lever had broken only moderately Republican, Mr Burns would now be in office.

The other item is Sen. Tom Coburn’s statement on the elections:

“The overriding theme of this election, however, is that voters are more interested in changing the culture in Washington than changing course in Washington, D.C. This election was not a rejection of conservative principles per se, but a rejection of corrupt, complacent and incompetent government.

“A recent CNN poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe government is doing too much while only 37 percent want government to do more. The results of this election reflect that … the Democrats who won or who ran competitive races sounded more like Ronald Reagan than Lyndon Johnson.

“This election does not show that voters have abandoned their belief in limited government; it shows that the Republican Party has abandoned them. In fact, these results represent the total failure of big government Republicanism.

“The Republican Party now has an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a party for limited government, free enterprise and individual responsibility. Most Americans still believe in these ideals, which reflect not merely the spirit of 1994 or the Reagan Revolution, but the vision of our founders. If Republicans present real ideas and solutions based on these principles we will do well in the future.

Read the whole thing. If you’re a discouraged limited-government type, libertarian or conservative, you’ll feel better — and you’ll be glad there are people like Tom Coburn in politics.

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