Why Senator Coburn Really Says No

From his current e-mail message, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tells why the Republicans say “No.” Here’s his example:

“Though it has failed to receive many headlines, a recent Inspector General investigation revealed that of the $5 billion in stimulus funds the Department of Energy awarded for its home weatherization assistance program, very little has been accomplished. Advertised as among the most “shovel ready” stimulus programs, less than 5 percent of projects have been finished and an [sic] in many states, zero projects have been completed. Despite all of these failures, the Department of Energy awarded itself $270 million of the stimulus funds to “administer” the program.”

Senator Coburn provides a link to the report from which he gathered the facts listed above. I think he mischaracterizes the report’s findings knowing that few will take the time to read it. I did. Here’s my take.
First, here we have a program that was designed to benefit the folks receiving weatherization assistance (they would have lower energy bills thus freeing more money for themselves to purchase goods and services) and to benefit the economies of the states themselves (because they would hire workers to complete the projects, thus fighting high unemployment by actually employing people). That’s good government, getting a double benefit for the money spent. A perfect example of stimulus spending. That’s they way it’s supposed to work.
But it hasn’t. At least not so far. Why not?
The report tells why. The Stimulus Act required that the states pay the weatherization laborers the prevailing wage. The problem is, the states had never done that before and no one knew what the prevailing wage was. It took till October 2009 to determine what to pay the laborers and virtually all states waited until then to start any projects. Other problems arose. For example, some states put hiring freezes in place and decided they couldn’t hire weatherization laborers even though their wages would have come from the federal grants and not state budgets. Other states decided not to work on getting the grants approved because they were busy resolving budget-related issues to the exclusion of getting money to work on weatherization projects. Some states missed the application deadlines by as much as 6 months.
Any reasonable person would look at the report and conclude that it was various state governments (with the notable exception of Ohio) that dropped the ball here. It’s not that any money was wasted. It simply wasn’t spent. The folks responsible for spending the money couldn’t get their acts together enough to plan to spend the grants. (Note: the program has a duration of 3 years and may yet show fruit).
So, who loses because of the failure of the states to take advantage of this stimulus money?
First, the states themselves. In difficult economic times, there’s no excuse for not taking federal money and paying people to complete weatherization projects. It’s a win-win situation for the states. But, there are other folks who lose out because of the incompetency of the states. The grants were exclusively reserved to improve the energy efficiency of nearly 590,000 residences of low-income citizens. The states have failed to perform a basic Christian duty of having charity towards the poor. They could have worked harder to get the grant applications completed and turned in and then worked on the projects. But they didn’t. After all, it’s not as if low-income people vote in large numbers in primary elections. Again, the poor are ignored by people in power and the consequences are to rob the poor of the chance to have more spending money and to rob the state of having more jobs.
Interestingly, Coburn claims that the figure of $270 million that was reserved for administering the grant program amounted to waste. Let’s put that claim to the test. To check the administrative overhead we divide 270,000,000 by 5,000,000,000 to find out that 5% of the monies for the program were reserved for administrative purposes. It is considered to be a measure of good stewardship when a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization has an administrative overhead of 10%. I’d say the DoE is doing a good job with the money. They are being responsible, not irresponsible.
Coburn on the other hand is truly irresponsible. He wants to stir up anger so that the public will call for the cancellation of a project with a double benefit of aiding the poor and creating jobs. He method is to distort the truth expecting the public to not examine his argument carefully. It looks to me like this “Family Doctor” isn’t too keen on helping the poor families that would have their homes weatherized. This “Citizen Legislator” doesn’t seem to care about some of his poorer fellow-citizens. This “Independent Voice” sounds just like a typical Republican, expecting those who need a helping hand to help themselves while denying any responsibility towards their general welfare. His brother’s keeper? Senator Coburn is not.

I think Senator Coburn should be highlighting the failures of the program for the purpose of getting the barriers to implementation removed, not trying to get the program cancelled. Instead of removing the weatherization program, we should vote Coburn out of office and replace him with someone who has a little more common sense.


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