SEN. Tom Coburn, the good doctor from Muskogee, is prescribing medication that the Obama administration finds hard to swallow: the truth.
Coburn has taken to writing letters almost daily to administration officials exposing their sky-is-falling rhetoric about the sequester's effects as so much hooey, and pointing out that cuts can be made in many areas without affecting agency operations.
After Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week that sequestration would force the closing of 173 air-traffic control towers and the furloughing of just about every air-traffic controller in the country, Coburn wrote to say that that seemed a bit extreme considering other spending going on.
Indeed the $600 million in cuts called for under sequestration represents less than 4 percent of the FAA's $15.9 billion budget in fiscal year 2012, Coburn pointed out. “I am confident there are numerous options for savings that will not interfere with FAA's mission,” the senator wrote. For starters, he suggested the agency cancel all upcoming conferences, freeze nonessential hiring and trim funding for low-priority programs. “If even one day of furlough for one air traffic controller can be avoided by reducing travel or conferences, then the FAA has an obligation to the taxpayers to reduce this non-priority spending,” Coburn said.
A day earlier he had gigged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the fact his agency was planning to hold previously scheduled conferences instead of spiking them in the name of cost savings. That's an indication the USDA can't get its priorities in order, Coburn said. He's right.
A letter to the White House budget office wondered why new federal job postings were issued last week for such positions as painters and “recreation specialists” while agencies were warning of furloughs. Good question.
Coburn has been one of the Senate's most vocal spendthrifts since arriving on the job in January 2005. His Senate website makes it easy for visitors to find some of the many examples of government waste and duplication. A sampling, taken from the Government Accounting Office:
The U.S. government spends $30 billion funding more than 44 job training programs, which are administered by nine agencies.
The federal government administers at least 20 federal programs across a dozen offices and agencies — all dedicated to the study of invasive species.
There are at least 17 offender re-entry programs across five federal agencies, costing $250 million each year.
A 2007 report of the Academic Competitiveness Council showed there are at least 105 federal programs that support science, technology, education and math education (STEM). Funding for those programs totaled $3.12 billion in fiscal year 2006.
And yet sequestration, which will trim 2.2 percent over the next decade, can't be accomplished without much pain and suffering?
Margaret Carlson, a columnist with Bloomberg News, said Coburn isn't the only senator who hollers about government waste. “But if Congress is going to tackle the nation's long-term deficit — or agree on a way to end the current sequestration — it will take the efforts of members like Coburn,” she wrote.
Keep dispensing that medicine, doctor, bitter as it may be.