White House, Coburn Spar On Stimulus

White House, Coburn Spar On Stimulus

By Kyle Trygstad - June 17, 2009

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report yesterday morning highlighting "100 examples of questionable stimulus projects." By the afternoon, the White House had responded with a point-by-point rebuttal.

"This report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working," Coburn's report begins. "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."

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Coburn ranked the top ten most wasteful projects, totaling $5.5 billion in federal government spending, and then listed the following 90 by region -- purposefully similar to the stimulus status report released by Vice President Biden 100 days into the Obama administration, which touted the projects it helped fund around the country.

Yesterday, the White House criticized the conservative senator's report and flatly denied all but a few claims of waste.

"This President has taken historic steps to ensure that there is adequate transparency, and that this money is spent the way it's intended to be used," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday during the daily briefing with reporters. "I think the report appears to be, in many, many cases, just flat out wrong."

In some instances, the White House's written rebuttal outlined a claim as "FALSE." More often, it offered a detailed response defending the project or explaining how errors were corrected. On some of the more controversial expenditures, like the $800,000 allocated for repaving a backup runway at John Murtha Airport, the report said simply that the project is "still under review."

According to Coburn, the most wasteful project was in his home state of Oklahoma -- the building of a new wastewater treatment plant in Perkins. The Coburn report states that the total cost of the project increased when stimulus money was offered to help fund it because of the strings that came attached, and residents' utility costs were raised by 60 percent.

"Communities constructing new facilities typically face higher utility rates in order to repay any loan," the White House rebuttal states. "If the Buy American provisions increase a project's costs by more than 25 percent, the State can apply for a waiver."

Rounding out Coburn's top five projects are the clean coal project in Illinois, FutureGen, which is a favorite project of the president; the repair of 37 bridges in rural Wisconsin "that hardly anyone uses"; the John Murtha Airport in Johnstown, Pa.; and $3.4 million for a wildlife crossing in Jackson, Fla., which allows turtles and other animals to cross a road through a tunnel.

Ed DeSeve, a senior advisor to the president for Recovery Act Implementation, conceded in a statement that among 20,000 projects approved, "there are bound to be some mistakes."

"When we find them, we have been transparent about it, and worked on a bipartisan basis to shut them down immediately," he said.

DeSeve adds that if there are "problematic projects" in Coburn's report, they will be addressed "immediately." "But much of this seems to be little more than an objection to the Recovery Act itself, which Sen. Coburn opposed. As state officials in Sen. Coburn's own home state have noted, 'We have people working today who would not have jobs if the stimulus package hadn't passed,'" he said.

The White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office provide reporters with regular press releases highlighting the implementation of stimulus funds around the country, while Republicans continue to hammer home the increasing unemployment numbers and what they say is clearly wasteful, fruitless spending. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 345,000 jobs had been lost in the month of May, and that unemployment increased to 9.4 percent.

President Obama admitted last week that not everything was going according to plan and that he was "not satisfied," yet touted the package's successes as keeping the jobs numbers from getting any worse.

"Had we done nothing," Obama said, "I think it's fair to say that most economists believed we could have really gone into a tailspin."

In a letter introducing his report, Coburn conceded that the stimulus certainly had created some jobs, but that those were far outnumbered by the jobs the country is still "hemorrhaging."

"After a review of thousands of projects," Coburn wrote, "it is fair to claim that there are some successes, but there are also places where we need to do better."

(Mike Memoli contributed to this article)

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Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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