Coburn Takes Aim at Wasteful Government Spending
Policy + Politics

Coburn Takes Aim at Wasteful Government Spending

Conservative lawmakers are putting on their game faces and baring their teeth on spending, even before the GOP takes control of the House and increases its numbers in the Senate in January. Case in point: They triumphed in the Senate last week by blocking a $1.1 trillion spending bill for fiscal 2011 on account of it’s more than $8 billion in earmarks, and have insisted on a short-term extension of government operations to give them more time to slash what they see as unnecessary spending. 

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — a longtime spending and budget guru in Republican circles — on Monday released a new oversight report highlighting what he deems to be some of the year’s most egregious government waste. The conservative Coburn was a member of the president’s 18-member fiscal commission, and surprised colleagues by signing on to its final recommendations for long-term deficit reduction despite its inclusion of tax increases. 

The 82-page report, entitled “Wastebook 2010,” documents more than $11.5 billion worth of what Coburn describes as nonsensical and often outlandish spending projects that were approved as part of the federal budget, earmarks and the stimulus package.

Here are some 2010 highlights:

-The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spends $175 million each year to maintain hundreds of vacant, mostly dilapidated buildings, including a pink, octagonal monkey house in Dayton, Ohio.

-The National Science Foundation awarded more than $200,000 to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford to study why political candidates make vague statements.

-The city of Las Vegas received $1.8 million in federal grants to build “The Neon Boneyard Park and Museum” — a shrine of historic Vegas signage from defunct wedding chapels, prohibited speakeasies and closed casinos.

-The Department of Agriculture routed $700,000 to University of New Hampshire researchers to study how cow burps and “other things” cause greenhouse gas emissions on organic dairy farms.

-$1.5 million in federal money went to upgrading the toilet facilities in Alaska’s Denali National Park.

-The Internal Revenue Service doled out $112 million in tax refunds to prisoners who filed fraudulent returns.

- The government provided $60,000 in taxpayer funds to fund a Vidalia onion marketing campaign in Georgia, which was timed with the release of the movie “Shrek Forever After.”

“As the year 2010 ends, millions of Americans are still struggling to find work,” Coburn wrote in the report’s introduction.  “Even those lucky enough to have jobs have had to tighten their belts and trim household budgets … Is it so much to expect Congress to do the same?”

Some of the examples in Coburn’s report will likely be used as fodder in future spending debates in Congress. Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president Steve Ellis said that Coburn’s “wastebook” also illustrates the point that there are ways to cut government spending without sacrificing valuable services. 

“People who dismiss this as just being titillating or funny miss the overall point that we have serious budgetary challenges facing us, and if we can’t deal with these in the report, how can we deal with the big hairy issues?” he said. These examples are just “the tip of the iceberg, with a lot of things underneath that need to be tackled and are really serious.”