Senate Refuses to Sacrifice Pork for Public Safety
Coburn amendments prioritizing bridge safety defeated as DOT IG report criticizes Congress' wasteful spending
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement today after the Senate rejected Coburn amendments designed to put bridge safety ahead of pork-barrel politics. Coburn amendment #2810 imposing an earmark moratorium until all deficient bridges are repaired failed by a vote of 82 to 14. Coburn amendment #2811 prohibiting funding of bike paths failed by a vote of 80 to 18. Coburn amendments #2812-2814 were defeated by a vote of 63 to 32.
* Amendment 2812 would have struck $450,000 in funding for the International Peace Garden in Dunseith, North Dakota;
* Amendment 2813 would have required that the housing needs of all Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are met before spending money to design or construct a Wetland Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana;
* Amendment 2814 would struck $500,000 in funding for construction of a new baseball stadium in Billings, Montana;
"These votes represent a resounding victory for business-as-usual pork-barrel spending in Washington. By defending this special interest system, my colleagues once again put their perceived political safety ahead of the public's safety. No one in America seriously believes that bike paths, peace gardens and baseball stadiums are more important national priorities than bridge and road repairs," Dr. Coburn said, adding that substandard road conditions contribute to deaths of more than 13,000 Americans, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
"In this debate, we heard members say they didn't have to make choices between bridge safety and low-priority pork projects because they could do both. The American people find that logic offensive. One reason the American people have lost faith in Congress is because, as an institution, Congress continues to ignore the rules that apply to every family in America. Every American has a budget that requires them to make choices and prioritize their spending. Members of Congress, however, don't treat the American people's money with that same level of respect.
"Congress' choices do have consequences. The bridge in Minnesota didn't fail as much as Congress failed. We failed to make good decisions. We failed to direct dollars where they were needed most because this body is obsessed with parochial pork-barrel politics. We failed to make common sense decisions that are in the best long-term interests of our country because too many politicians are more focused on their short-term political interests," Dr. Coburn said.
During floor debate, Dr. Coburn referred to a new Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General report that contains the following findings. Click here to read the full report.
* Earmarks in DOT have increased in number by 1,150 percent in 10 years (1996 - 2005), with the value of earmarks in the same timeframe jumping 314 percent.
* Ninety-nine percent of earmarks (7,724 out of 7,760) were not subject to the transportation agencies' review and selection processes or bypassed the states' normal planning and programming processes.
* Earmarks may not be the most effective or efficient use of funds. The IG report identifies five ways in which earmarks impact programs in the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration, as follows (see pages 11 - 14 of the full report):
o Earmarks can reduce funding for the states' core transportation programs.
o Earmarks do not always coincide with DOT strategic research goals.
o Many low priority, earmarked projects are being funded over higher priority, non-earmarked projects.
o Earmarks provide funds for projects that would otherwise be ineligible.
o Earmarks can disrupt the agency's ability to fund programs as designated when authorized funding amounts are exceeded by "overearmarking."