$19 Billion in Pure Government Waste this Year and Growing
“…these compulsive spenders charged more than $1 trillion to our national credit card, pushing us to a $16 trillion debt.” Sen. Tom Coburn
By Rachel Alexander l October 20, 2012
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican/AP
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) issued his annual report on government waste this week. Entitled “Wastebook 2012,” it compiles 100 of the most egregious ways taxpayers’ money is being squandered. Coburn awards Congress the “well-deserved but unwanted distinction as the biggest waste of taxpayer money in 2012.”
The frivolities that taxpayers’ money has been spent on are so silly they are easy to poke fun at. Coburn refers to NASA spending $1 million to develop a menu of food to eat on Mars as “Out-of-this-world Martian food tasting.” $325,000 for construction of a robotic squirrel for observing its interaction with snakes is described as, “When robot squirrels attack.”
The types of government waste are all over the spectrum. Nothing is too wasteful to exclude for this Congress. There is another bridge to nowhere, a sidewalk to nowhere, indirect subsidies to professional sports, and awarding of contracts to the highest bidders instead of the lowest bidders.
The massive abuse of food stamps is exposed. They are being used to purchase alcohol, Burger King, soap operas, Starbucks frappuccinos, cigarettes and cars. Some recipients received additional food stamps because they smoked marijuana. An exotic dancer who made $80,000 in tips annually, spending $9,000 on “cosmetic enhancements,” also collected $1,000 a month in food stamps. 2,000 dead people are still receiving food stamps.
“Let them eat cake.” Coburn exposes a $300,000 campaign by the USDA to encourage people to eat caviar, one of the world’s most expensive delicacies. At a time when many Americans can barely afford to put food on their tables, he is reminded of the callous remark about starving peasants made by a royal shortly before the French Revolution.
One project universally offensive to every political persuasion is a $30,000 grant given to researchers to study whether merely glancing at a person’s face can determine whether or not that person is gay. Other projects overtly promote a liberal agenda. The National Science Foundation awarded $697,000 to a theater company in New York to create a musical about biodiversity and climate change.
Coburn calls Congress to task for the waste. The Senate Budget Committee has failed to produce a budget in over 1,200 days, even though it is required to by law. Meanwhile, there has been no oversight since the last budget was passed, as Congress has added trillions more to the debt in spending. Congress is stalled, unable to decide whether to cut spending or increase taxes to address the fiscal crisis. Meanwhile, it easily manages to pass hundreds of pieces of offensive legislation, worsening the crisis as the nation approaches the fiscal cliff and begins to stare dizzily into the abyss completely oblivious of the consequences.
Congress is at its lowest approval rating ever since the Gallup polling organization began tracking it 40 years ago. 83% of Americans currently disapprove of Congress’ performance. More exposure than Coburn’s annual report needs to be given to this wasteful spending, which continues to increase every year.
“The Highway Trust Fund, which has been bailed out several times over the last five years, is a good example, as billions of dollars intended for transportation are wasted on questionable projects that do little to fix congestion or other transportation problems. An unused Ohio bridge – not even connected to a road or trail – received a half-a-million dollar makeover this year. An Oregon town will pay $388,000 for just five bus stops – enough to buy two houses in the same town! And in West Virginia, thousands of dollars were spent to reconstruct a historic streetscape…out of Legos. Would the dollars spent on these transportation projects not have been better spent to fix some of the 22,158 deficient bridges plaguing our national highway system?” asks Coburn.
Meanwhile, the Highway Trust Fund, reliant upon highway user fees (gas tax) languishes at a rate unchanged for over 20 years not keeping pace with inflation, has endured assault after assault from congressional earmarks, diversions and so-called enhancements. Congress’ response is to cater to the special interests by tolling already paid for Interstate Highways, selling our roads to foreign companies and incurring more debt schemes with elaborate federal loan programs to build even more roads to toll, while failing to properly maintain existing roads and bridges. Is it any wonder the public doesn’t trust Congress?
Here are just a few of the most outrageous expenditures listed in Coburn’s report:
- $516,000 to create a video game called “Prom Week” so people can relive their high school prom experiences;
- $15 million for recruiting scientists for Russia's weapons institutes;
- $505,000 to a pet shampoo company;
- $13,000 to paint a large mural of a carrot in order to deter obesity;
- $10,000 for talking urinal cakes to deter drunk driving;
- $1.5 million to vineyards;
- $700,000 to develop beef jerky at the Pentagon;
- $20,000 on circus classes;
- $666,905 to research people watching reruns on TV;
- Professional athletes overseas vacations;
- School tax credits for prisoners who did not attend school;
- Medicaid audit program costs more than it brings in, $30,000;
- $939,771 to research male fruit flies’ attraction to younger female fruit flies;
- $74 million for an electric vehicle tax credit that will not reduce emissions;
- $750,970 to a brewery in New Hampshire;
- $547,430 for a dancing robot named Shimi to serve as a disc jockey for smartphones;
- $24,995 grant to develop a course entitled, “Should we want to be happy?”
- $49,990 to a potato chip company for advertising;
- $25,000 to promote the Alabama Watermelon Queen around the state;
- $1.2 million to study older people playing the video game World of Warcraft;
- $99,000 to a new distillery that will produce vodka and other hard alcohols; and,
- $548,731 to study whether young people who drink alcohol feel immature
Coburn concludes, “These and the other examples of mismanagement, wasteful spending and special interest deals highlighted in this report represent missed opportunities to assist those in need and to shore up the nation’s finances….As you look at these examples, put your personal political persuasion aside and ask yourself: Would you agree with Washington that these represent national priorities, or would you conclude these reflect the out-of-touch and out-of-control spending threatening to bankrupt our nation’s future?”
Congress is to be responsible stewards of our hard-earned money. Yet, it has done the opposite of what the Founding Fathers proscribed about government spending. George Washington recognized that reducing the debt was more important than spending more money, “No pecuniary consideration is more urgent than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt.” Thomas Jefferson warned against putting the nation in debt, “The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” Abraham Lincoln warned, “You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.” If Congress will not cut the unaffordable spending, Americans need to send their Senators and Representatives a message and vote them out of office.
Rachel Alexander is the founder of the Intellectual Conservative and an attorney. Ms. Alexander is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.