Wasted! $18.9 Billion in Government Spending
Policy + Politics

Wasted! $18.9 Billion in Government Spending

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In his annual report card of shame, released Monday night, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn tears into 100 “wasteful” projects that cost taxpayers a combined $18.9 billion – including $90 million in tax breaks for pro sports leagues  and a $300,000 program to encourage Americans to eat caviar.

“How many of our friends, family and neighbors could be fed with the nearly $1 million the government spent taste-testing foods to be served on the planet Mars?” Coburn, a Republican, writes in the introduction to his latest “Wastebook.” “How many nutritious school lunches could have been served with the $1.8 million in financial assistance provided to cupcake specialty shops? Washington priorities are backwards. This is why important programs go bankrupt while outdated and outlandish projects continue to be funded.”

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The annual collection feeds the public appetite for the absurdities of federal spending. But even if Congress managed to follow the recommendations by Coburn, a medical doctor, the budget would still require some painful surgery.

The $18.9 billion represents about half a percentage point of the $3.5 trillion spent last year by the federal government – and 1.7 percent of the $1.1 trillion deficit. Reducing the deficit requires massive tax hikes, drastic spending reductions, or a combination of both.

Coburn opens his report, a draft of which was obtained Monday by The Fiscal Times, by hacking away at an obvious taxpayer piñata – the $132 million spent funding the notoriously unpopular Congress. Coburn notes the gridlock caused by a Republican-majority House, yet singles out the Democratic-controlled Senate for scrutiny.

But in a sign that the document isn’t merely a partisan tool, one prominent name is conspicuously absent from the 227-page report: President Obama, who’s battling  Republican Mitt Romney in a tight presidential race right now. .

The report documents that the National Football League, National Hockey League and Professional Golfers’ Association – among others – are classified for tax purposes as “non-profits,” depriving the government of $91 million in tax revenues.

Coburn also challenged the use of food stamps through the $80 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken in California, Starbucks “Frappucinos” in Oregon, condoms in Tennessee, beer in Ohio, and even marijuana “munchies” in Maine.

The analysis ventured abroad, to a $27 million foreign aid program to help Moroccans design pottery. And NASA went even further, with $947,000 in grants to develop a pizza and other food items that astronauts could eat on Mars.

The federal government spent $3,700 on 30,000 Lego pieces used for a replica of Queen Street in Martinsburg, Wv. , as it appeared back in the 1920s and 1930s.

And while politicians of both stripes praise the entrepreneur, Coburn went after the Small Business Administration for providing loan guarantees to nine cupcake stores.

“’Smoky Mountain Cupcakes,’ ‘Heavenly Cupcake,’ and ‘Cupcake Station’ all received thousands of dollars of taxpayer-backed loans,” the report said. “They offer customers products like ‘Brown-Sugar Pound Cupcakes,’ ‘Twisted Love,’ and ‘Peanut Butter.’”