- - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Washington politicians’ egos, penchant for nepotism and disregard for taxpayers’ money knows no bounds. For weeks leading up to the country’s second government shutdown in nearly 20 years, all America talked about, and continues to, is the nation’s spending — and the nearly $17 trillion debt problem.

Nevertheless, amid the country’s financial woes, the State Department decided there was a pressing need for U.S. embassies to have $5 million of fine crystal from which to pour, toast and imbibe their liquids. With the blessing of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and heavy lobbying to Mr. Kerry from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, on Sept. 25, the State Department awarded Vermont-based Simon Pearce (note the Vermont connection) a five-year contract. For $5 million, Simon Pearce will manufacture the majority of the 20 different styles of “handcrafted” crystal glasses and barware in its Quechee, Vt., facility.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations State, foreign operations and related agencies subcommittee, Mr. Leahy wrote Mr. Kerry a letter, strongly urging him to award the crystal contract to Simon Pearce. In a press release, Mr. Leahy oozed excitement: “It is wonderful to have such an exquisite example of Vermont craftsmanship on display and in use in our embassies around the world.”

If only Mr. Leahy were equally as excited about cutting the government’s debt, financed largely by China and Japan. Now more than two weeks into the shutdown, Mr. Leahy has been issuing press releases calling it the “Republican Shutdown,” yet Democrats such as Mr. Leahy himself would rather continue spending money America doesn’t have on items such as crystal, than talk seriously about cutting our debt and deficit. Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth, Mr. Leahy.

Simon Pearce acknowledged its first order from the State Department was for 12,500 crystal pieces. Hold onto your hats, taxpayers, because these individually crafted pieces of crystal range from a low of $58 for a wine glass to a high of $100 for a champagne flute. Boasting on its website, the company encourages customers to “choose what you love to reflect your style and way of living.” Evidently, the State Department’s style of living under the Obama administration is very extravagant.

When you consider President Obama hasn’t let a day go by in five years when he hasn’t demonized America’s higher earners to “pay their fair share” in taxes, it raises the question: for what? To support government largesse and waste such as this? Why can’t America’s diplomats and visitors to embassies drink out of plain, old glass like most other Americans? This is just another example of how our elected officials and government bureaucrats think they are entitled to do as they please instead of what we elected or hired them to do: that is, to serve what’s in the best interest of “we the people,” not themselves.

In all fairness, the State Department’s glassware purchase isn’t the only example of government waste and dereliction of duty. At the end of each fiscal year, on Sept. 30, government agencies’ budgets are held hostage to a “use it or lose it” policy. The agencies either spend all the taxpayer money they’ve been appropriated by Congress or have the unspent amount deducted from the next year’s budget. Unfortunately, federal bureaucrats are revolted by the thought of spending less money, so they go on lavish shopping sprees at the end of each fiscal year.

According to The Washington Times, in 2012, the Navy burned down its budget by buying $51,000 of clarinets and a $21,000 organ. The Army splurged $40,000 for new violins. Feeling in need of decor, the Department of Veterans Affairs purchased $562,000 worth of art this year to blow its funds, and the Department of Agriculture hoarded nearly $150,000 worth of toner cartridges.

Congress hasn’t passed a budget since 2010. So agencies are funded each year by Congress passing stopgap funding called a continuing resolution (CR). Each year, an agency’s yearly budget is based on the previous year’s CR.

America has been mired in a non-job-producing, anemic economic growth state for five years because of Mr. Obama’s inability to govern. Congress needs to pass a budget, and Democrats and Mr. Obama need to curb their addiction to spending. With our debt at 70 percent of GDP and approaching 100 percent of GDP in the near future, America is tiptoeing over the edge of fiscal ruin.

If the State Department had better priorities, it would have spent $5 million to beef up security at the Benghazi, Libya, consulate instead of splurging on crystal. Perhaps four dead Americans would be alive today. Remember Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and other U.S. diplomats sent numerous cables and emails warning the State Department about the consulate’s lax security, but in her Senate testimony, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was too busy to read 1.4 million cables sent to the State Department in 2012. It’s time for politicians and bureaucrats to spend our money more wisely because it does make a difference, a big one.

Crystal Wright is the principal owner of the Baker Wright Group LLC, a public relations firm.