While parents were busy buying gifts for their children earlier this month, the office of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was hard at work figuring out what gifts the federal treasury is handing out in the form of egregiously wasteful spending.
Paul’s office chronicled more than $560 million of wasteful spending in the federal budget, from taxpayer support for clown schools in Argentina ($324,015), to American vacations for British bloggers ($75,000), and a park bathroom in Queens, N.Y. ($1.5 million).
Because, apparently, football has no way to fund its own research, the U.S. Commerce Department was giving money away to develop a down marker that counts from 1st down to 4th down in LED lights ($130,000). The Bureau of Indian Affairs is apparently considering building an expanded parking lot ($500,000) for a casino with a sketchy past in Apache, Okla.
And while federal investigators were busy fruitlessly looking to find collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, apparently they missed the U.S. Forest Service spending money and working with officials at Russia’s Lake Baikal ($177,300). That sort of collusion with Russia isn't pernicious or illegal. It just looks wasteful.
Eaten a tomato lately that didn’t taste quite right? Perhaps a National Science Foundation study on how to make tomatoes taste better will satisfy your palate ($1.5 million). We’re sure Jordan is quite nice this time of year, but do taxpayers really need the United States Agency for International Development to spend their money ($98 million) promoting tourism there? And perhaps we missed this day in civics class, but where does the Constitution say the federal government should support pagan bed and breakfast owners in Belarus ($2 million)?
Of course, even if the $560 million in Paul’s report hadn’t been wasted and had simply gone towards paying off the national debt, it would cover less than a fraction of one percent of the $20 trillion hole. But any dollar wasted by the federal government is a dollar the government could have spent more productively, or that a taxpayer could have used to support their family.
At the very least, the spending should be reprioritized to better uses. Fund education savings accounts for Native American children instead of casino parking lots. The Forest Service should spend more money preparing to fight forest fires instead of blazing trails in Russia. Perhaps just let farmers and the free market figure out how to grow a tastier tomato and let the National Science Foundation focus on more pressing issues.
As Paul's report suggested, $560 million would fund two weeks of border patrol, or almost one year of construction on VA hospitals.
Democrats and liberal pundits seem to wail every time Republicans propose slowing the growth of federal spending much less actually cutting spending levels. But it should be easy to agree that these types of federal expenditures don’t pass the smell test and aren't worth federal support. Especially while they’re in the minority and somewhat powerless, Democrats should support cutting waste such as the spending mentioned above — it would limit the GOP talking point that the federal government is wasting the money taxpayers send to Washington.
Congress and executive branch leadership must do a better job of holding federal agencies accountable for this waste. Agency heads who don’t want to be excoriated in a congressional hearing or see their funding cut must clean house and be better stewards of taxpayer money.
Of course, this $560 million should only be the starting point for federal spending cuts. But the long journey to a balanced budget has to start somewhere.