WASHINGTON (AP) — A maverick Republican senator criticized faulty missile defenses, unneeded airports and golf course repairs among the projects completed on the taxpayers' tab in his annual collection of billions of dollars of government waste, released Wednesday.
Sen. Tom Coburn, in his yearly "Wastebook," cited 100 examples, big and small, of questionable spending, such as a $347,000 alternative medicine grant to measure the benefits of massage on which rabbits and $200,000 to upgrade Ithaca, New York's SWAT team equipment.
The Oklahoman also blasted his Mississippi Republican colleagues for forcing funding of a $350 million NASA launch pad tower that was to have supported a rocket program shut down four years ago. The tower was immediately mothballed.
Coburn claimed to find waste totaling up to $25 billion, much of which comes in big chunks like the $3 billion annual budget for the International Space Station, which he says conducts research on projects like the "effect of microgravity on the growth of mold on white bread." He also takes a dim view of $1 billion spent annually on a missile defense system that has a 30 percent success rate in tests that don't copy real world conditions.
"Is each of these a true national priority or could the money have been better spent on a more urgent need or not spent at all in order to reduce the burden of debt being left to be paid off by our children and grandchildren?" Coburn asks.
Coburn has crusaded against "pork barrel" projects since coming to Congress in 1995. While he has been on the losing end of most votes, he cites several examples in which publicity ended waste, such as an almost $500,000 annual subsidy for an Oklahoma airport that had hardly any flights.
He criticized $4.6 million in overpriced housing for temporary Border Patrol agents in Arizona, an $18 million grant for an airport serving Sun Valley, Idaho, and Coast Guard patrols of private parties in ritzy coastal communities. There's another $468 million for 20 Afghan Air Force planes that turned out to be unsuitable and are being scrapped, $335,000 for traffic humps in Portland, Maine, and more than $600,000 each year to send anthracite coal to heat U.S. military bases in Germany.
Coburn is retiring from Congress this year.