Newspaper column: Another senator spotlights federal wasteful spending

Back in the 1970s Wisconsin U.S. Sen. William Proxmire began handing out his monthly Golden Fleece Award, recognizing wasteful spending by government agencies, such as a $4 million advertising campaign by the Postal Service to encourage Americans to write more letters to each other.

After his retirement, along came Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who published an annual “Wastebook” list of 100 wasteful government boondoggles and debacles, which one year criticized the IRS for allowing $17.5 million in tax deductions for business expenses at Nevada brothels, such as breast implants, costumes and “equipment.”

With Coburn retiring, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has compiled his periodic waste reports to provide taxpayers with an amusing litany of imaginative ways federal bureaucrats have found to waste their money. For 2017, Paul just scratched the surface and uncovered more than $563 million worth of boondoggles, extravagances, profligacies and imprudences.

Some were huge and some were petty. All outlandish.

“Hard to believe it has been another year already. Seems like just yesterday our national debt was inching closer to $20 trillion, and now it’s pushing $21 trillion,” the senator writes in introducing “The Waste Report.” “And what a year it was!!! Wonder Woman dominated at the box office. For the first time ever, the Houston Astros won a World Series, and the world got a new iPhone (and lost a home button in the process). Yet while our homes and cars continued to get smarter, the same cannot be said for our federal government and how it spends and wastes hardworking Americans’ tax dollars.”

The big ticket item from Paul’s roster of wasteful spending was a whopping $233 million in U.S. tax dollars to build a 63-mile highway, not in the United States but in Afghanistan. That’s $3.7 million per mile, folks.

A New York Times report on the project found that millions of dollars were spent not on construction but for security, much of that going to a mysterious figure who was suspected of staging attacks on the project in order to wring more money from the project. “Security contractors, meanwhile, would seemingly only show up for pay day, though on paper they were working every day,” Paul writes.

On the petty side of the ledger, there was the $125,000 from something called the Rural Energy for America Program to pay for solar electric panels for a luxury golf course on the resort island of St. Croix in the Caribbean.

“And are solar panels really an agricultural priority for taxpayers?” asks Paul. “Probably not. Even if they were, solar powered golf courses in the Caribbean certainly do not fit the bill.”

For sheer audacity, it would be difficult to top the National Endowment for the Arts spending $20,000 to film something called “Traffic Jam,” which features “[a]rtists working with local youth” to “choreograph automobiles, bicycles, golf carts, and pedicabs to perform skilled movements in a parking lot, making art inspired by Austin’s traffic congestion.” Honk if you love this one.

If that doesn’t give you a charge, take a gander at the “Power UP” project, which “showcased 50+ linemen, electrical technicians and Austin Energy employees in a choreographed full-length dance with cranes, bucket and field trucks,” as well as “a set of 20 utility poles.” This cost taxpayers a mere $10,000 — a bargain no doubt.

You’ll be glad to know your benevolence also doled out $130,000 to develop digital down markers for football games, $75,000 to pay for British bloggers to vacation in the U.S., $1.5 million for a bathroom in a Queens, N.Y., public park, $500,000 for a parking lot for an Indian casino and $1.5 million to study how to make tomatoes taste better.

At least those monies were spent here. Our support overseas was also magnanimous: $14.8 million to finance international versions of

“Sesame Street,” $1.7 million to remind Cambodian motorcyclists to wear helmets, nearly $100,000 to teach Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook, $15 million to train cashiers for Walmart in Mexico, $21 million to buy motorbikes for Pakistani dairy farmers, $98 million to promote tourism in war-torn Myanmar and nearly $24 million to help Moroccan college grads find jobs.

Doesn’t it make you want to pop your suspenders with pride? Or pop someone.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

24 comments on “Newspaper column: Another senator spotlights federal wasteful spending

  1. Linda Sanders says:

    POP SOMEONE! I did take a gander at the POWER UP video; stupid and wasteful. That’s what happens when you get to spend someone else’s money!

  2. Rincon says:

    You missed the big ones. 4 trillion dollars for our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and $470 billion every year in foregone tax revenue so that apartment dwellers can subsidize homeowners (mortgage interest deduction). In comparison, $20,000, albeit egregious, is sort of small potatoes.

  3. Steve says:

    I have been in my house for 30 years, my “mortgage interest deduction” disappeared after the first three years.
    Ever since, we have been forced to file 1040 due only to my investments, most of which are taxable, once realized and every dividend is considered income.
    We haven’t “subsidized” renters for at least 27 years, Rincon. And I bet 70% of homeowners are in the same state as we are.

    Not having enough debt to reach that deduction makes paying off the mortgage a lot more beneficial.
    I can attest to that, the end of the month is a lot nicer now.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the mortgage interest deduction cost the Treasury $69.7 billion in 2013…” https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardgreen/2013/03/19/how-much-money-would-dropping-the-mortgage-interest-deduction-raise-less-than-people-think/#6cd0d939ec58

    I guess you’re right, Steve. $69 billion is chicken feed, at least compared to the Waltons’ net worth. It only comes to $207 for every man, woman, and child.

  5. Rincon says:

    Anonymous is me. My browser’s giving me trouble.

  6. Steve says:

    You’re a business owner, Rincon. IT’s not as though you pay attention to money…..

    Oh, wait….

    And I bet this bit of snark goes flying right on by you too.

  7. Athos says:

    Rinny, all that resentment toward people of means, will poison you.

    Hopefully, you can stop the hating and envy.

    It is possible.

  8. Rincon says:

    Yeah, I know. Resentment, envy, jealously, the politics of hate (it’s in the Conservative propaganda manual, page 42). This specious argument (and old saw) falsely assumes that anyone who alleges unfairness regarding the rules of money is automatically envious, jealous, or resentful. The same argument was used against abolitionists and the civil rights protesters of the 1960’s. The proper word is unjust.

  9. Rincon says:

    One other false assumption of the “rising tide lifts all boats” crowd is that money is unlimited, and that it’s impossible for any group to hoover it up to the exclusion of others. If you still believe in trickle down economics under its newer name, supply side economics, then I have a proposal: We’ve had 38 years of trickle down, so let’s change it to trickle up. You know, give the middle class massive tax breaks, while leaving the rich to pay the bills, so the middle classers can spend the money with companies owned by the rich, increasing business and thus making the rich richer. Same logic. Why not give it a try?

  10. Steve says:

    Just who are the top 1% global earners? Surprisingly, this is rarely mentioned. It’s those who make over $32,400 per year! If you exceed that, congratulations you are the 1%.

    https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp

  11. Steve says:

    “We’ve had 38 years of trickle down, so let’s change it to trickle up.”

    Why would we want to change something that significantly assists lifting extreme poor out of poverty?

    “Our ruling

    Smith said, “Over the last 30 years, extreme poverty has been cut in half.”

    By World Bank figures, Smith actually understated the reduction. We’ve cut extreme poverty by 58 percent using the 2008 definition of extreme poverty, and 74.1 percent by the 2015 definition.

    While we don’t quibble with Smith using that metric, our research shows that there are other ways of determining poverty, and those different ways show different declines. Moreover, defining poverty is not an exact science, experts say.

    Because of those caveats, we rate Smith’s claim Mostly True.”

    http://www.politifact.com/global-news/statements/2016/mar/23/gayle-smith/did-we-really-reduce-extreme-poverty-half-30-years/

  12. Rincon says:

    I note you didn’t compare our median income to that of other OECD countries. Income isn’t the only thing as well. It’s how much of your income is eaten up by expenses. In our country, we all have close to 7% more of our earnings sucked away by the absurdly high costs of medical care than the citizens of any other country. Also from your article:

    “Americans rank extremely high in terms of household wages – sixth worldwide, according to a 2013 Gallup survey – but not as high when it comes to median wealth. In fact, the 2017 Credit Suisse Wealth Report ranks the U.S. just 26th by this measure.” When we get to about number 40 or so, we’ll be knocking on the door of the third world.

  13. Rincon says:

    Politifact agreed that global poverty was reduced, not that trickle down had anything to do with it (although some money does indeed trickle down). You’re neglecting such things as the rise of capitalism and rule of law around the world plus the juggernaut of technology (ever hear of the green revolution, for example).

    You still haven’t told me why trickle up wouldn’t work just as well. Why can’t we try it?

  14. Steve says:

    I didn’t offer anything other than the stories and links.

    However, since you ask, if we change the system in place how do YOU guarantee a continuing improvement?

    The issue of freedom in poor countries is addressed in a Heritage link I did not include because you dislike anything conservative. However, since you bring up that subject….here you go!
    https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking
    Note that all of the wealthiest countries are in the “free” or “mostly free” category. Almost all of the poorest countries lie in the “mostly unfree” or “repressed” categories.

    Yup, as a nation, we are among the worlds 1%r’s and we are spreading the ability to obtain that same thing, hence the worldwide improvement. Even our own poor can be considered among the 1% globally. Bringing the the world into the light is proving to be the best answer.

    I hope we can keep our country free, hope we can make it more free. Keeping in mind (of course) free does not mean freedom.

    Sadly, the left has lost this vision. They used to have a good grip on it until they gained power.

  15. STORMY DANIELS says:

    When the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman Steve Wynn (the only “man” in America fuglier than Orange Hitler himself) offered me $1000 to touch his dainty ding-a-lung, I said “Hell to the no!” If a cheap fat bastard like dumbass Donnie Two Scoops gave me $130,000 to keep my mouth shut, then it’s going to take at least a million to get me to open my mouth for slimy snake Steve Wynn! 🍦🍦🏌🗞💥

  16. STORMY DANIELS says:

    Don’t forget the $130,000 that traitor Trump’s personal lawyer paid me through a shell company in violation of federal campaign laws.

  17. Rincon says:

    You’re right Steve. Compared with third world countries, we do pretty well. Too bad you had to pick such a low standard. We don’t stack up so well compared to OECD countries.

  18. Steve says:

    “Too bad you had to pick such a low standard.”
    I didn’t pick any standard. That was handed to us by all the despots stepping on the masses since the dawn of history.
    We may have figured out how to keep that from being the norm and the state of the world shows we may be on the “right” path.

  19. Rincon says:

    Absolutely true. We have a right to be proud of our nation. Nevertheless, I do have two observations: 1) Our country led the way to freedom in a powerful country until the 1970’s or ’80’s, and then we lost the lead to other OECD countries, which continued to successfully innovate while we stagnated and moved backwards in some ways. 2) It’s possible that, while our system will continue to protect individual freedom, China’s system may yet prove to create a more powerful nation. They have leapfrogged us in several areas and threaten to continue. One great weakness today is our failure to agree with each other on much of anything, partly due to extensive dissemination of misinformation. This has led to fear and paralysis. China’s leadership so far has been decisive and bold, although not always in the interests of its people.

  20. Steve says:

    Historically, your issue detailed in #1 has been the case. The USA entered each WW near the bottom of the barrel but came out of both near or at the top.

    @. China is a competitor but still not number one. In business, there is nothing wrong with being number two but in politics, number two is last. They may seem to be “catching up” but they are, in reality, only letting you see what they wish you to see.
    Don’t fall for it.

  21. Rincon says:

    Their standard of living may never equal ours; the same for human rights, but it’s quite conceivable that China will emerge as the world’s greatest superpower, partly because they speak and act with one will, but also because their more meager incomes are devoted to say, constructing the Silk Road or other superior infrastructure along with projecting their vast economic and political power abroad, while in America, we spend much of our GDP on toys for ourselves or for billionaires. By keeping government small, we unintentionally also keep it weak.

    I know, I know. Our government is not small. True, but entitlements are sort of a pseudo government service often used to buy the toys I mentioned. Remove the entitlements and our government is actually pretty small, defense expenditures notwithstanding.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “Department officials did not request approval from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees for the expenditure of $31,561, even though federal law requires congressional approval “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if the cost exceeds $5,000.”

    Well we must remember of course, that this is a republican administration, so their dinners are much fancier than most of us would be having.

    Its funny though, I can remember stories written about the Obama adminstration’s spending, but I don’t remember much about other administrations spending habits.

    Figured the “fiscal conservatives” around here might be interested in this drop in the bucket though, even if they didn’t know about it.

  23. Common Sense says:

    An update:

    The $30,000 dining table was just a start for an agencies planning to cut money for senior citizens and the infirm.

    Apparently now they’ve taken up lounging while they cut.

    “The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will reportedly spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its D.C. office, according to The Guardian.

    This comes on the heels of President Trump proposing a $6.8 billion budget cut for the department, cuts that would leave fewer resources for programs that help the poor and homeless.”

    Any thoughts on this? Anyone?

    http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/375975-hud-spending-165k-on-lounge-furniture-for-office-report

  24. Anonymous says:

    A further update:

    Zinke apparently got tired of hearing about all his private charter jet trips to study how to give America away to billionaires and has decided to stay “home” more often. Thus the need to spend $130000 on DOORS for his office.

    “What a waste. Just think how many dining sets you could have bought or private jets you could have chartered with that money,” Schiff tweeted about news that the Interior Department spent $139,000 to upgrade the doors in Zinke’s office.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/377517-dem-mocks-zinke-over-new-doors-think-how-many-dining-sets-you-could

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