Sen. Tom Coburn: Columbia Heights Isn’t “Underserved”
It's hard to believe that Oklahoma's Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has ever been to the IHOP in Columbia Heights' DCUSA shopping center. In his 2011 "Wastebook," a guide to what he considers wasteful government spending, Coburn lists the subsidy received by Jackson Investment Company as the sixth most egregious (thanks to New Columbia Heights for pointing this out):
An International House of Pancakes (IHOP) franchise was built with financial assistance courtesy of Uncle Sam. It was intended to help an "underserved community." The federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "$500,000 of the $765,000 grant was used as an equity injection in DC Pancakes LLC for a 19% ownership interest." The remaining funds went to training costs for new employees, and other consultants.
The new IHOP is not located in an "underserved community" but a popular Washington D.C. neighborhood. The neighborhood is Columbia Heights, which has become a local shopping hot spot for some and "one of Washington‘s more desirable neighborhoods."
Coburn quotes an Examiner column about Columbia Heights which asserts that the neighborhood isn't underserved because, among other things, Meridian Pint serves fancy imported beers. (It doesn't, by the way. As New Columbia Heights notes, it sells largely local brews, including some made in the District.) Last year Lydia DePillis described how the IHOP franchise qualified for a subsidy—and yes, some of the problems with that. But those problems had to do with directing subsidies intended for local businesses to a franchise of a national chain.
Because if you spend some time at the IHOP, it's clear that it's one of the few restaurants that serves the area's working class residents—people who, despite Coburn's assertions, do still live in Columbia Heights. Just last month, hundreds of low income residents lined up overnight on 14th Street for a shot at 10 open apartments and 100 spots on a waiting list for subsidized housing in the Hubbard Place apartments.
I asked Coburn's spokesperson John Hart why the senator flagged Columbia Heights as affluent.
It wasn't a surprise that he ignored my main question, instead writing back, "If the D.C. government wants to invest more in IHOP they are certainly welcome to do so. We don't believe this should be a priority of the federal government when we're running a $15 trillion debt and our entitlement programs are on the brink of insolvency."
This may just be a matter of ideological consistency. Coburn, whose nickname is "Dr. No," generally doesn't want to spend any money on anything—no matter how "underserved" it really is. But Washington City Paper would be happy to buy Coburn a short stack on Irving Street if he'd like to check it out.
Update: Courtesy of Media Matters for America, here's video of Fox News Channel's coverage of the Coburn report, in which the network's anchors complain about "pancakes for yuppies."
Photo by Darrow Montgomery