I just got off the phone with Senator Coburn, where we spoke about the report on wasted money in the federal stimulus package he released today. (See my previous post.)
Contrary to popular belief, Coburn reaffirmed that ardent fiscal conservatives aren’t against the principle of government spending as economic stimulus. “I want the Stimulus bill to be effective and the only way to make it effective is to have good oversight on it,” he told NRO. “A certain amount of true infrastructure spending will create jobs, but this bill is short on that.” Further, Coburn emphasized the waste in the stimulus bill was regrettable since there’s an almost limitless number of projects that would be more worthy of stimulus dollars. “I think it’s 243,000 bridges that are in need of repair — and these aren’t bridges that three people a day use,” he said.
Coburn also didn’t use the stimulus waste to impugn the motives of his Democratic colleagues. Rather, he lamented the stimulus waste as an example of how Democratic legislators accept wasted tax dollars as the status quo. “I think they care [about waste], they’re just so used to the federal government being inefficient that this doesn’t bother them at all. It’s ‘we’re going to get some good and some bad and so what?’” he said.
As for what needs to happen for the ongoing stimulus oversight, Coburn promises “We’re going to continue doing it ourselves.” He notes that the stimulus oversight board is set-up and doing its job to some extent as evidenced by the board’s blunt admission that “they think $55 billion will be defrauded.”
While many have been critical of the stimulus because it hasn’t been spent quickly enough to have the intended economic effect, Coburn urges caution. “The key point I would make is that speed isn’t near as important as accuracy,” Coburn said regarding preventing future stimulus waste. “I think we’ve had way too much speed and not enough accuracy in terms of where we’re spending the money. I understand the rush to get it out to stem the tide of the recession, but this is a five-year bill anyway.”
Finally, Coburn is adamant that the feedback from taxpayers is such that federal spending priorities need to be watched closely. “The mood in the country is ‘You’re spending money on things you don’t need. Stop it. You’re overstepping the bounds of the federal government. Stop it. You’re borrowing our children into the poorhouse. Stop it,’” he said.