EDITORIAL: Doc Coburn’s government diet

Oklahoma senator prescribes $30 billion in federal restraint

Washington’s in no mood for cutting spending. The Senate on Wednesday voted 64-36 to abandon restraint and boost spending by $65 billion. Supportive senators argued that the federal government has been on a starvation diet over the past year, and it urgently needs to gorge one more time. Thanks to Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, we know that’s not the case.

Each year, the Republican lawmaker releases a “Wastebook” that holds the federal government’s most ridiculous projects up for a well-deserved round of ridicule. The latest edition catalogs 100 dubious projects that collectively cost taxpayers $30 billion — nearly half the cost of the new budget deal. “There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps,” says Mr. Coburn. “What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices — and passage of fiscally responsible spending bills — possible.”

It’s a matter of setting the government’s priorities straight. For instance, Mr. Coburn asks why the Army National Guard spends $10 million on product placement in the Superman movies to encourage new recruits while at the same time cutting 8,000 soldiers from the Guard. That expenditure makes about as much sense as the $60 million advertising effort sending people to the Healthcare.gov website for Obamacare enrollment only to be met with crashes and error messages because the site did not work.

During October’s temporary government shutdown, non-essential employees enjoyed 16 paid work-free days. Mr. Coburn doesn’t think the federal bureaucrats earning $100,000 or more should be classified as “non-essential.” Paying them to do crossword puzzles, go shopping and catch up on chores around the house for two weeks cost the nation $400 million.

NASA one-upped the rest of the government with a $360,000 program paying 20 individuals to “spend 70 days lying in bed.” The space agency says the program is meant to explore what happens when the body doesn’t get enough exercise to prepare for a mission to Mars, which the administration has already canceled. The individuals selected for this highly important program are allowed to watch TV, read books and surf the Internet, all on the taxpayer dime.

If the National Endowment of the Humanities has any say, these “pillownauts” will curl up and read a bodice ripper. The federally funded institution spent $1 million on a promotional effort for romance novels. This covered the cost of a documentary titled “Love Between the Covers,” a website and a traveling exhibit. This particular industry generate $1.4 billion a year in revenue and can afford its own advertising department.

All around the sprawling federal bureaucracy, such crony deals cost taxpayers billions. There is little doubt that Mr. Coburn could easily add hundreds more examples of government fraud and waste. The lawmakers who claimed earlier this week that there’s no more fat left in the budget to cut just aren’t trying hard enough.

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