Sen. Coburn Caught Denouncing Non-Existent Government Spending

October 31, 2011 11:50 am ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

Having mastered the art of ridiculing government funding for funny-sounding projects, regardless of their actual merit, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has apparently moved on to ridiculing funny-sounding government-funded projects that are not actually government-funded. 

The Associated Press takes a look at some supposedly-wasteful spending Coburn and his fellow Republicans have been attacking lately: 

[O]n Coburn's list was a lighthouse renovation in the harbor of Toledo, Ohio, that would be partly funded with $500,000 in federal money. Actually, no transportation dollars have been authorized or awarded. The lighthouse renovation is among projects community officials tentatively hope to get around to in 2019.

Coburn's list includes a 1996 grant for preservation of a "factory used to make saddletrees" -- the foundation of a riding saddle -- in Madison, Ind. Not mentioned is that the grant wouldn't qualify for enhancement money under current program rules, according to Transportation Department officials.

The Texas Department of Transportation is described as spending $16.2 million in enhancement money to restore the Battleship Texas, docked in the Houston Ship Channel. If so, they weren't federal transportation dollars. U.S. transportation officials said an application for the money was turned down.

The list cited landscaping to screen a junkyard in Aiken, S.C. After checking with state and local authorities, federal officials said the project was canceled years ago and again, no funds were awarded.

Close observers of Coburn likely know where this is going:

[T]he Lincoln Highway 200-Mile Roadside Museum ... was described as receiving $300,000 in 2004 for signs, murals, colorful vintage gas pumps painted by local artists and refurbishing of a former roadside snack stand from 1927 that's shaped like a giant coffee pot. [...]

But no transportation aid was spent on the coffee pot's $100,000 restoration, said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. The money was raised entirely from preservation and civic organizations and local supporters.

"We did not use any of this $300,000 award for anything to do with the coffee pot," she said. "It's interesting that nobody from Senator Coburn's office called me about this."

That's a common complaint from targets of Coburn's ill-considered attacks. Earlier this year, when Coburn produced a sophomoric list of ostensibly wasteful science grants whose targets were chosen simply because they sounded funny, his office insisted it contacted grant recipients before including them in the report. Then a steady stream of scientists came forward to say they hadn't been contacted and Coburn had misrepresented their work. Meanwhile, the second largest newspaper in Coburn's home state blasted him for trying to cut funding for a local bridge without "consider[ing] the other side of the story, as told by respected and experienced leaders from his own home state." 

The bad news is that the senator most routinely lauded as a deficit hawk turns out to be a charlatan who demagogues tiny and often legitimate (or nonexistent) government spending while staunchly defending billions of dollars in tax breaks for the nation's biggest oil companies. 

The good news is that at a rate of eliminating one unnecessary $300,000 project that isn't funded by the government per day, it will only take Sen. Coburn infinity years to balance the budget.