U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement today regarding a decision by Senate leaders to make a $10 billion omnibus lands package the first order of business in the 111th Congress. More than 100 organizations ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Wildlife Refuge Association have expressed their opposition to this package due to its wasteful earmarks, anti-conservation provisions and anti-domestic energy production provisions. In addition, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service has released a report calling the package "controversial." Detailed background on the bill is here.
"The decision by Senate leaders to kick off the new Congress with an earmark-laden omnibus lands bill makes a mockery of voters' hopes for change. This package represents some of the worst aspects of congressional incompetence and parochialism. Congress should spend the next few weeks holding hearings on an economic stimulus package and identifying areas of the budget to cut to pay for that proposal. Instead, the Senate is set to resume business as usual," Dr. Coburn said.
Egregious provisions in the omnibus lands package include the following:
A provision that takes about 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil out of production in Wyoming, according to the Bureau of Land Management. The energy resources walled off by this bill would nearly match the annual production levels of our two largest natural gas production states - Alaska and Texas.
$3 million for a "road to nowhere" through a wildlife refuge in Alaska.
$1 billion for a water project designed to save 500 salmon in California. At this price, each salmon would be worth far more than its weight in gold.
$3.5 million to help celebrate the 450th birthday of St. Augustine Florida, in 2015.
$4 million to protect livestock from wolves that Congress helped reintroduce into the wild.
$250,000 to help bureaucrats decide how to designate Alexander Hamilton's boyhood home.
$5 million on botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida.
"The American people have a right to know how we plan to spend their money. I would welcome the opportunity to spend several days discussing the contents of this legislation on the Senate floor. However, the millions of Americans who are worried about their jobs and their homes are hardly eager for Congress to build roads to nowhere, spend $1 billion to rescue 500 salmon, and help a city in Florida plan a party six years in advance. Congress has a nine percent approval rating precisely because it continues to show little understanding of the priorities that matter to working families," Dr. Coburn said.
"If the Senate wants to debate lands legislation once we've helped stabilize the economy we should begin by better managing the land we already oversee. We have a $9 billion maintenance back log within the national park service because Congress prefers to create new pet projects rather than responsibly oversee the parks we've already created. Moreover, we are not suffering from a lack of wilderness areas in the United States. According to the Census Bureau, we have 106 million acres of developed land and 107 million acres of wilderness land. What we are suffering from, however, is a lack of common sense in Washington," Dr. Coburn said.