By any definition, Sen. Tom Coburn is very conservative. Some of his social positions have made him the subject of ridicule. On the other hand, he has distinguished himself as one of the most honest members of Congress when it comes to government spending. The ranking member of the federal financial management subcommittee, Coburn has exposed some of the near-criminal spending by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
I say near-criminal because if Congress were measured by the same standards used by those of us in the private sector, the decades of wasteful, unfunded, corrupt, mismanaged spending would have sent many members of Congress to jail! It's hard to find a government agency that doesn't squander billions of dollars.
The Department of Defense holds the gold medal for squandering billions in its mismanagement of the war in Iraq. It's difficult to imagine how the Federal Emergency Management Agency could have wasted more money, given its history with Hurricane Katrina, but it's trying! Since 2004, FEMA has provided Florida with $47 million for post-hurricane "crisis counseling." That may sound noble, but dollars have been squandered on bingo for senior citizens, gardening workshops, children's programs and yoga on the beach. Nice to know this is the solution to national emergencies.
Coburn's committee has exposed millions being wasted by his congressional colleagues through earmarks. Horse riding facilities in Virginia ($600,000), a $5.9 million snowmobile trail in Vermont, the National Packard Museum in Ohio ($2.7 million), and, of course, there's the Alaskan bridge to nowhere. Then, there's Homeland Security. It sort of sounds like a savings and loan and has been managed as effectively " when you remember how many of them went bankrupt just over a decade ago.
Governmental waste at the federal level is beyond measurement. Sadly, President George W. Bush's Harvard University, master's-of-business-administration businessman approach may have given MBAs a bad name when you consider how out of control spending has gotten on his watch. As compassionate conservatives go, he's made liberal-spending Democrats look frugal. All politics being local, earmarks and big federal projects (bringing home the bacon) are why so many members of Congress are re-elected.
Governmental spending is out of control: We're spending billions on the war, 70 million baby boomers are on the verge of collecting Medicare and Social Security, America's roads and bridges are crumbling, and the national debt has skyrocketed. Responsible elected officials should be looking for waste rather than creating it. Yet, 80 U.S. senators voted against Coburn's amendment to transfer all earmarked money for bike trails to rebuilding the nation's structurally deficient bridges. So, the next time a bridge collapses like the one in Minnesota, we all can take heart in the fact that there a miles of new bike trails for us to ride on to the Social Security office, only to find out there's no money.
Coburn deserves credit for having the guts to speak the truth about congressional earmarks.
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.