Forget fish in a barrel. Identifying ridiculous examples of congressional spending priorities is like shooting pigs in a slop pen.
At least once a week, and sometimes daily, the office of Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, issues its “Pork Report” to highlight outrageous government waste. The very fact that such a report can continue week after week, hundreds of millions of dollars after other hundreds of millions, is evidence in itself that spending abuses are almost endless.
It’s no defense of these items to note that local pork, as a percentage of the federal government’s overall spending problem, amounts to small potatoes. As Mr. Coburn is fond of saying, local pork is the “gateway drug” to a much larger overspending addiction. Members of Congress insert their own pork into spending bills, barter support for one another’s pork so that all the pork is protected, and then allow themselves to be held hostage to massive entitlement expansions and unconscionable debt for the sake of the local pork they have worked so hard to secure.
The only difference between a congressional spending addiction and an indisciplined private person’s shopaholic habits is that members of Congress are spending other people’s money, which means that we, the taxpayers, eventually pay the extremely painful price.
In that context, consider just a few examples - chosen randomly from some of the most recent Pork Reports - of projects funded by taxpayers that are of parochial benefit only, or of federal largesse that is a plain boondoggle.
c The Federal Aviation Administration spent $5 million in December for a “training conference” that whistleblowers told ABC News was actually little more than a three-week-long Christmas party. The FAA managers received a whopping $81 per day for meals on top of $140 nightly for hotel rooms. One fun-loving FAA bureaucrat told an undercover reporter, “It beats being at work.”
c A National Science Foundation grant was used to study online dating services to find out how often people lie. It found - what a surprise! - that lots of people lie on online dating pages. Those are your tax dollars hard at work to find out how others play.
c Congress ponied up $250,000 to build bus shelters in Bal Harbour, Fla., a wealthy community whose $67,680 per capita income is nearly double the $37,500 national average. It’s not clear why taxpayers in Katrina-ruined Clermont Harbor, Miss., should help pay for bus shelters in rich Bal Harbour.
c Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, secured $500,000 for more airplane parking spaces in the town of Wasilla. Who knows, maybe that will make space for all the media flying in Cessnas to interview Sarah Palin, the town’s famous former mayor.
c The chairman of the Vidalia Onion Museum Committee received a $30,000 grant, financed with funds from the 2008 federal farm bill, to bolster tourism for the Georgia town and promote the official Vidalia Onion Web site. Hey, we love onions as much as anybody else, but paying for an onion museum makes us cry.
c Another $95,000 in federal funds went to a parachute museum in Dayton, Ohio. There’s no truth to the rumor that the parachutes are golden.
Examples of such offensive pork projects are nearly endless. Taxpayer money, though, is finite - and so should be taxpayers’ patience.