December 20, 2008

The omnibus lands bill would have squandered taxpayer dollars


Idaho Statesman

The recent editorial from The Times-News (reprinted in the Statesman's WestViews, Nov. 22) criticizing my opposition to the omnibus lands bill in Congress ignored key flaws in the legislation.

For instance, I would suspect many Idahoans don't want their tax dollars squandered on a plan to erect new barriers to energy exploration. One provision in the package takes 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil out of production in Wyoming. The energy resources walled off by this act alone would match our domestic natural gas production for 15 years.

I would also suspect Idahoans don't want their money wasted on pork barrel projects outside of Idaho, such as $5 million on botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida or $1 billion on a project in California designed to save 500 salmon.

I am not alone in my concerns. More than 100 organizations ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Wildlife Refuge Association oppose the bill.

Your readers also should consider that our nation is not suffering from a lack of wilderness areas. Our nation currently has more wilderness area (107 million acres) than developed land (106 million acres). What we are lacking, however, is fiscal discipline in Congress and a real debate about priorities.

One of the greatest threats to our long-term economic health is the culture of parochialism that pervades Congress and leads members to write lands bills loaded with wasteful earmarks and special interest provisions. Members defend one another's right to bring home the bacon even if that practice undermines the long-term economic health of not just Idaho or Oklahoma but the entire country.

Congress' parochialism and short-term politicking is a major reason why we are facing a $10 trillion national debt and an economic crisis.

The Times-News would better serve its readers by taking a critical look at this culture rather than blindly defending business as usual in Congress.

Tom A. Coburn, M.D., is a Republican U.S. senator from Oklahoma.