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.

Fall election will make or break Harry Reid’s dictatorial grip on power

The spotlight is on Nevada’s senior senator, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and it is casting some dark and ugly shadows.

Practically every news report out of Washington in the past few weeks has featured a snarling and snapping Harry Reid — sort of like the Reid who, when asked by a reporter about funding child cancer treatments during the government shutdown, snapped, “Why would we want to do that?” and then called her “irresponsible and reckless” for asking the question.

A sign in rural Nevada.

Fellow Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has declared that the Senate is broken and its Reid’s fault. He said Reid’s unilateral killing of the filibuster for nominations ended the Senate. “While it ignores its own rules, today’s meek Senate watches as the Obama administration changes the health care law, suspends immigration laws, and rewrites labor laws,” he said.

Fellow Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said Reid has appointed himself to be a Rules Committee of one. He points out that the Democratic whining about Republicans abusing the filibuster is a diversion from Reid’s strong arm tactics that have emasculated the GOP minority. Using parliamentary procedures, Reid has cut off debate and prevented the minority from offering amendments 78 times — more than all other Senate majority leaders combined, ever. Reid has boasted, “The amendment days are over.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel has flatly stated Washington is gridlocked solely because of Harry Reid.

“Here’s how the Senate ‘works’ these days,” Strassel explains. “Mr. Reid writes the legislation himself, thereby shutting Republicans out of the committee drafting. Then he outlaws amendments.

“So yes, there are filibusters. They have become the GOP’s only means of protesting Mr. Reid’s total control over what is meant to be a democratic body. It isn’t that the Senate can’t work; it’s that Sen. Reid won’t let it.”

Legislation simply goes to die in Reid’s Senate. No budgets have passed, no jobs bills, no immigration bills, no federal land bills. While the federal government holds title to 85 percent of the land in Nevada, the only thing Reid pushes is giving more land to the federal agencies who block development and economic benefits.

For every dollar Nevadans send to Washington, we get back 65 cents. That’s the second worst return among the states, though we have the supposedly most powerful senator. For whom is he wielding this power?

The 74-year-old Reid says he is running for re-election in two years, though he was hospitalized for exhaustion recently after a routine week.

But for Reid to maintain his grip on power come next January, a majority of senators elected in November must be Democrats. We in Nevada are standing on the sidelines since neither Reid nor Sen. Dean Heller is on the ballot, but the outcome will greatly effect our state and the country. Thus, it is incumbent on all Nevadans to let their friends in other states know it is in all our best interests to return Reid to minority status.