Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sen. Coburn lies about the "waste" in the stimulus bill

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., junior Republican senator from the unpopulated wasteland of Oklahoma, hasn't been practicing medicine for quite some time. Clearly, he hasn't seen a patient in a while, so you can understand why he might mistake a national economy for a human being, and attempt to perform an examination. From his report, entitled 100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion*:

By offering 100 examples of questionable stimulus projects, worth $5.5 billion, this report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working. Rather, the intent is to educate taxpayers, policymakers and the media on lessons that can be learned from some of the early missteps and prevent other questionable projects from moving forward.

So he says. I have trouble imagining a senator over the age of 60 as an Internet wiz. But he's clearly mastered the art of playing the Concern Troll. He doesn't want to help the stimulus succeed. He wants to manufacture outrage, in the hope of tilting the 2010 midterms in the Republicans favor.

If his goal was to start an honest debate about which projects were succeeding and which were failing, he would be a bit more honest about how he portrays the projects on his list. He selectively quotes this article to imply that the ARRA money actually cost the people of Perkins, Oklahoma.

Two points: the money did come with strings. But the strings are ones that support the aims of ARRA. The "strings" include better pay for workers (putting money in American pockets), a "buy American" stipulation for construction materials (again, putting money in American pockets), and increased reporting requirements, presumably to prevent all the fraud, waste, and abuse that Senator Coburn decries.

The other point: the $1.4M was just the grant portion of the funds. There was also a loan for $5.8M, at an interest rate of 2.9%, a steep discount from the 8% loans Perkins had been pursuing.

It's not clear that ARRA was a finanical windfall for this project. But it's not clear that it was supposed to be. Yes, sewer fees went up, which is counterintuitive when the government hands you a wad of free money. But the point was to get shovels moving on a shovel-ready project, and in that it succeeded. Where there used to be a set of diagrams, now something is being built, people are being put to work, and residents are getting the infrastructure they need.

In short, Sen. Coburn's #1 project -- his poster child for mismanagement and unintended consequences, is doing pretty much what it's supposed to.

One down, 99 to go.

* Cuz, you see, he used to be a doctor, and it's called "a second opinion." Har!

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