Political Report, Wayne Greene: Coburn's right on flaky federal spending
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/25/12 at 4:21 AM
Read U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Wastebook 2012”
Read U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Department of Everything”
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Amid the tumult and the uproar surrounding the fiscal cliff and the Affordable Care Act, two recent reports by Sen. Tom Coburn outlining federal waste probably didn't get as much notice as they deserved.
Coburn's "Wastebook 2012" includes some jaw-gaping examples of where your federal tax money went:
As federal government spending goes, those examples are pretty small, but still... caviar consumption?
- $300,000 to promote caviar consumption.
- $505,000 to promote specialty shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs.
- $350,000 to study how golfers might benefit from envisioning the hole as actually bigger than it is.
The thing is, those little things add up, and there seem to be plenty of them for Coburn to tick off.
Coburn's report threw in some bigger ticket items too.
- $325,000 to build a robotic squirrel and see if rattlesnakes are interested in eating it.
- $516,000 to fund "Prom Week," a video game that allows the player to relive prom night.
- $25,000 to fund a promotional tour by the 2012 Alabama Watermelon Queen.
The total spending Coburn brought in question: $18 billion.
- $91 million in tax loopholes for the NFL, NHL and PGA.
- $27 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development that included Moroccan pottery classes.
- $1.3 million in "corporate welfare" for PepsiCo, the world's largest snack food producer.
Even in Washington, that's real money.
"The problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund but not specific about what we should cut," Coburn said in a press release. "As a result, we are chasing robotic squirrels and countless other low-priority projects over a fiscal cliff."
His solution is for Congress to do its job and go through a national budget one line at a time to decide what's vital and what isn't.
$10,000 for Michigan state police to buy talking urinal cakes that warn people against drunken driving? Not vital, Coburn says.
$947,000 to study foods astronauts could eat on Mars, although no one's planning on going to Mars? Not vital.
A second report from Coburn - "Department of Everything" - takes aim at waste in what is a sacred cow for many conservatives: the Pentagon.
The U.S. military is the nation's largest employer, with 1.4 million service members on active duty and thousands of staff performing other duties.
Some of those jobs could be done by civilians. Others don't need to be done by anyone in the government, Coburn says.
Coburn - who says he's a hawk, but a budget hawk, too - claims the Defense Department could save $67.9 billion over 10 years by cutting out things from the defense budget that have nothing to do with defense.
Again, he had stupefying examples.
Hungry? How about some Pentagon brand beef jerky?
The Defense Department's Foreign Comparative Testing program, which was created to equip soldiers with the weapons they need, has spent $1.5 million "to develop savory snacks" including a better jerky, Coburn reports.
Bored this weekend? Why not take in a tax-funded workshop posing the eternal question, "Did Jesus die for the Klingons, too?"
Sure enough, that imponderable was part of the 100 Year Starship project, an effort by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the same people who brought you the Internet) to "foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder" to "make interstellar space travel practicable and feasible" within the next century.
Or maybe you'd prefer the Pentagon's reality cooking show, "Grill It Safe," featuring two "Grill Sergeants" who performed a 46-minute cooking video.
"I believe in peace through strength, but we cannot be strong militarily unless we are strong economically. And we cannot be strong economically if we treat politically sensitive areas of the budget as sacrosanct," Coburn said.
Coburn's reports were designed to wake up Congress and force some budget rationality, but if you're truly entrepreneurial and not completely public-spirited, you'll see the Washington profligacy for the opportunity that it is.
You'll never go broke underestimating the potential of picking Uncle Sam's pocket.
Just think of those U.S. government-certified checks rolling in. It's enough to give you champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
Hey, I think I just made caviar consumption go up. Where do I pick up my $300,000?
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Original Print Headline: Coburn's right: Flaky federal spending has to stop
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
U.S. Sen Tom Coburn takes aim at federal waste in two reports. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World file