Republican senators said Tuesday the nearly $1 million in stimulus money being spent to study the division of labor among ants and the $400,000 spent to catalog Buffalo, N.Y., residents’ drinking and drug habits are proof that President Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery program is filled with waste.
Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona released a report detailing 100 examples of what they say are bad funding decisions under the stimulus program, with Mr. Coburn estimating that 15 percent of all the money spent so far “is pure waste.”
“When we run $1.4 trillion deficits, the money we spend ought to be a high priority for the American people as a whole,” Mr. Coburn said.
Mr. McCain took particular delight in ridiculing the ant research, which is being conducted in his home state by the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Mr. McCain said he was surprised his state has cornered the market on researching ant behavior, but said the money should be spent on higher-priority projects.
The stimulus package - officially known as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act - passed in February and has since been controversial from the day it was signed. The Congressional Budget Office has said its models suggest the bill could be responsible for between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs, but continued high unemployment and reports of misguided and wasteful spending have hurt the program’s reputation.
The two senators said the blame rises all the way to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the self-proclaimed “sheriff” of stimulus spending, who they said never built a reputation as a spending watchdog during his decades in the Senate.
Elizabeth Oxhorn, a spokeswoman for Mr. Biden and the recovery effort, said administration officials will take a look at Mr. Coburn’s list, but said the conservative Oklahoma lawmaker’s previous list of 100 projects, released in June, was “error-filled, with most of the projects cited being non-existent, never funded, or not actually Recovery Act projects at all.”
“In the end, even if there are a few unwise projects, it is only a handful out of the over 50,000 projects that have been approved to date,” she said. “The real question here is whether Recovery Act critics will at long last acknowledge that well over 99 percent of the projects are sound, effective and working as promised.”
Mr. Coburn said his new report may not be 100 percent accurate, “but I bet you we’re 99.9 percent accurate.”
Among the bum projects he identified are grants for hundreds of thousands of dollars to study whether young women who drink are more likely to engage in sex, and why young men don’t like using condoms.
The senators said money would be better targeted on infrastructure projects such as upgrading hundreds of thousands of outdated bridges. Mr. Coburn said the bridges will have to be rebuilt at some point anyway, and the benefits of construction projects are more tangible and lasting than the research projects he and Mr. McCain uncovered.
The White House points to more than 170 projects it says it halted or changed after deciding they were not justified under the stimulus program. Among them: three Defense Department swimming-pool renovations; a series of water-reclamation projects by the Interior Department; plans to buy a new freezer to freeze fish sperm at the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery in South Dakota; and a plan for repair work on the East Wing of the White House.
The administration also changed a project Mr. Coburn highlighted in his first report on stimulus waste: The Army Corps of Engineers was going to repair a guardrail meant to protect people from a lake in Oklahoma that has since gone dry.
According to the White House, that money was instead diverted to demolish abandoned campgrounds.