Coburn, McCain Cite Waste in Stimulus Spending

Daily News Article   —   Posted on December 9, 2009

(by Jim Myers, Tulsa World, Washington Bureau) WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn on Tuesday singled out river cruise boats in Oklahoma City and a research project at Oklahoma State University as he released [a] report [with Sen. McCain critical of stimulus funds going to “silly and shortsighted projects.”

“Across America families are making hard choices every day between competing priorities,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “Unfortunately, politicians in Washington refuse to make the same choices.”

Also released by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the report, “Stimulus Checkup,” covers 100 projects [they say are wasteful] across the U.S. totaling $7 billion.

Coming in at No. 18 is $1.8 million that will go to Oklahoma River Cruises, which has several boats ferrying passengers along a seven-mile run of river from around the Oklahoma City airport to close to downtown.

“Relatively few Oklahomans may benefit from the project,” Coburn’s report stated.  “The boats are averaging less than 12 passengers per trip despite being able to hold 35 passengers.”

His report also said the money was going to a “boat company,” but Michael Scroggins, public information manager for the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, said the boats were purchased with federal funds by the local government agency.  Scroggins pointed out that Coburn keeps repeating information he retrieves from news reports instead of getting the information directly from the agency.

Half of the $1.8 million will be used for a maintenance facility to protect the boats, he said, and the other half will be used for operating the boats. Scroggins said Congress dedicated money for ferries in the stimulus legislation, adding the money would have gone to another city or state if the local agency had not used it.

As for the number of passengers, he said the program was launched last year, and those numbers are expected to rise as the river development continues.

The [Oklahoma State University] OSU project came in at No. 59 on the Coburn-McCain list.  Coburn’s report stated the National Science Foundation will pay $1.1 million for a professor and two investigators at OSU to study grandparent roles in Alaska. He said the money will go to fund travel to Alaska.

OSU defended the project.  “The project supports OSU’s land-grant mission of teaching, research and outreach and has implications for community programs far beyond Alaska,” said Gary Shutt, OSU’s director of communications. “It is an extension of a previous project by Dr. Tammy Henderson, who has a national reputation in family policy and gerontology.”

Shutt said the project will create two jobs on the campus of OSU, as well as provide funding to support research support staff.  “The work will advance knowledge that will not only benefit people in Alaska, but Oklahoma and the rest of the nation,” he said.  “This research also will enhance Dr. Henderson’s work with the Oklahoma Geriatric Education Center and Oklahoma Department of Human Services.” …

Other projects included a $5 million grant for an “almost empty” mall in Tennessee, $133 million in renovations to a federal building in Oregon, $2.2 million to a “money-losing” golf course in California, $943,190 in terrorism-prevention money to a Chicago-based dinner cruise company and $1.9 billion for a “failed” cleanup effort at a World War II-era nuclear site in Washington state.

Vice President Joe Biden [the self-proclaimed sheriff of the stimulus spending] also drew criticism at the senators’ press conference. “He is the sheriff,” McCain said of Biden.

He pointed to the current jobless rate [10% unemployment] and [1.4 trillion] national debt, adding the nation cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on projects that do not create jobs or promote real economic growth.

Liz Oxhorn, White House spokeswoman for the [Stimulus] Recovery Act, said the administration’s unprecedented transparency and accountability effort is blocking bad projects from getting Recovery Act funds.  “That effort is a huge success,” Oxhorn said.

She said the administration will look at all the projects cited by Coburn but added that his previous reports have been error-filled with projects that were nonexistent, never funded or not actually Recovery Act projects.  “So this latest report, too, should be taken with a grain of salt,” she said.

Oxhorn said a few of the stimulus projects may have been unwise but said that more than 50,000 have been approved so far. She also challenged Recovery Act critics to concede the real mistake was their opposition to the package whose sound projects have created up to 1.6 million jobs.

Write to Jim Myers at

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Tulsa World. Visit the website at


1. What are the goals of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Act? (see “Background” for the answer)

2. a) How much money was allocated for the stimulus plan?
b) How much of this do Senators McCain and Coburn cite as going to silly and shortsighted projects in their report “Stimulus Checkup”?

3. a) Why does Senator Coburn criticize the allocation of $1.8 million for river cruise boats in Oklahoma City?
b) How does Oklahoma Transportation manager Michael Scroggins defend the project?

4. a) Why does the Senators’ report criticize the $1.1 million research project at Oklahoma State University?
b) Gary Shutt of OSU defended the project in para. 10-11. How many jobs did he say would be created at OSU from the funding?

5. a) Re-read para. 12 and visit the link under “Resources.” Do you think these funds, totaling $7 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money, are being used in a responsible manner or are being wasted as the Senators assert? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.

6. The McCain/Coburn report states: “Since the stimulus bill was enacted in February, nearly three million Americans have lost their jobs and the percentage of people who are without work has risen to 10 percent. … More jobs have been lost than created.” How does this assertion contradict Recovery Act spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn’s assurance about the job situation?

7. quoted Sen. Coburn: “Our national debt has doubled over the past 10 years because Washington can’t set priorities. Wasteful project after wasteful projects has piled up, creating a mountain of debt for future generations. With just over $200 billion stimulus dollars spent already, we hope this report will encourage the administration to spend remaining stimulus funds more wisely.”
and Sen. McCain, who said “With unemployment at 10 percent and an escalating national debt, we cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on projects that don’t create jobs or promote real and sustainable economic growth. This report shows that much of the stimulus bill has been a failure.”
Sen. McCain pointed to the current jobless rate [10% unemployment] and [1.4 trillion] national debt, adding the nation cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on projects that do not create jobs or promote real economic growth.
Do you agree with the Senators, or with White House spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn, who said the Obama administration’s unprecedented transparency and accountability effort is blocking bad projects from getting Recovery Act funds, and that “That effort is a huge success”? Explain your answer.

Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.


  • The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is an economic stimulus package enacted by Congress in February 2009.
  • The Act was based largely on proposals made by President Barack Obama and was intended to provide a stimulus to the U.S. economy in the wake of the economic downturn.
  • The Act followed other economic recovery legislation passed in the final year of the Bush presidency including the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which created the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).
  • The Act includes:
    -federal tax cuts
    -expansion of unemployment benefits and other social welfare provisions
    -domestic spending in education, health care, and infrastructure, including the energy sector.
  • The Act also includes numerous non-economic recovery related items that were either part of longer-term plans (e.g. a study of the effectiveness of medical treatments) or desired by Congress (e.g. a limitation on executive compensation in federally aided banks added by Senator Dodd and Rep. Frank).
  • The government action is much larger than the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which consisted primarily of tax rebate checks.
  • No Republicans in the House and only three Republican Senators voted for the bill.
  • As of the end of August 2009, 19 percent of the stimulus had been [spent].

The Recovery Act has three immediate goals (per

  • Create new jobs as well as save existing ones
  • Spur economic activity and invest in long-term economic growth
  • Foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending


Read the McCain/Coburn “Stimulus Checkup” report (in PDF format) at

Read a summary of the McCain/Coburn “Stimulus Checkup” report at