Oklahoma senators, congressmen call for more oversight in Congress

Saturday, February 11th 2006, 6:34 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation called for better spending oversight Saturday, saying the nation cannot afford billions of dollars in discretionary projects while fighting a war in Iraq and rebuilding the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

``We have a system that does not put a limit on the size of government,'' said Republican Rep. Ernest Istook, a candidate for governor and author of a proposed balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said the earmarking of tax dollars for special projects is driving up the cost of government. Congress funneled $100 million to 200 museums across the nation last year in spite of other obligations, Coburn told publishers and editors at the Oklahoma Press Association's midwinter meeting.

``There just isn't enough money to take care of all of that,'' said Sen. Jim Inhofe, also a Republican.

Congress has spent billions of dollars to help rebuild New Orleans and areas along the Gulf Cost that were damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year and may spend another $40 billion, Coburn said.

``But we haven't spent that money well,'' he said.

Coburn said a Federal Emergency Management Agency contract for debris cleanup along the Gulf Coast went through the Corps of Engineers, which paid a company $32 a cubic yard. The contract then went through a regional company and those doing the actual work on the ground got $8 a cubic yard.

``We have spent three times as much as we should have,'' Coburn said.

Rep. Dan Boren, the lone Democrat in the delegation, said FEMA's sluggish performance following the hurricanes and in responding to Oklahoma's wildfire crisis last month indicates it was a mistake to place the agency under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Boren, son of University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator, said FEMA should be an independent agency responsible for responding to natural disasters and the homeland security agency should concentrate on terrorism.

Boren and other members of the delegation expressed concern over the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program.

``They are the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism worldwide,'' Coburn said. ``They are well on the way to enriching uranium. Their goal is to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.''

Boren denounced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, noting he has disputed historical evidence of the Holocaust, the Nazis' World War II slaughter of 6 million European Jews, and called for the destruction of Israel.

``This man is a complete lunatic,'' Boren said.

Boren got a round of applause from publishers and editors when he announced he is co-author of legislation that would shield reporters from revealing their confidential sources in federal court proceedings. State law already shields reporters from revealing their sources in state court.