The federal government spent what, on what?

Did you know the government spent $17.5 million in tax breaks to feed and pay prostitutes at Nevada brothels? Or that NASA is spending $360,000 to pay people to be in bed for 70 days and $125,000 to construct a 3-D printer that could create pizzas for astronauts in space?

Don’t feel bad. Neither did I until yesterday when Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn released his annual “Wastebook.” Charlotte dipped into the Wastebook yesterday, but I can’t resist the temptation to delve into it just a bit more.

It highlights approximately 100 “questionable and lower-priority” programs that the government spent $28 billion on in 2013. This year’s comic book cover is reminiscent of the first Superman comic book. Don’t be fooled, government spending is no hero.

Coburn notes in a statement:

“While politicians in Washington spent much of 2013 complaining about sequestration’s impact on domestic programs and our national defense, we still managed to provide benefits to the Fort Hood shooter, study romance novels, help the State Department buy Facebook fans and even help NASA study Congress,” said Dr. Coburn.

“Had Congress, in particular, been focused on doing its job of setting priorities and cutting the kind of wasteful spending outlined in this report, we could have avoided both a government shutdown and a flawed budget deal that was designed to avert a shutdown,” Coburn said in a statement. “The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in Wastebook 2013 is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement. There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps. What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices — and passage of fiscally-responsible spending bills — possible.”

Here are a few stories from the Wastebook that range from silly to egregious:

  • Government Study Finds Out Wives Should Calm Down – (NIH) $325,525 – A National Institutes for Health study of marriages finds that wives would find marriage more satisfying if they could calm down faster during arguments with their husbands.
  • Tax-Payer Funded “Pole Dancing”– (NEA) $10,000 – A $10,000 dollar grant from the National Endowment of the Arts makes it possible for a troupe of Austin Energy employees to choreograph pole-dancing as a tribute to the unseen men who provide and secure the power lines.
  • Pimping the Tax Code – (NV) $17.5 million – Through the tax code, Uncle Sam is giving legal Nevada brothels special treatment to help their businesses including deductions for groceries, salaries and wages of prostitutes, rent, utilities and taxes and licenses.
  • Uncle Sam Looking for Romance on the Web – (NEH) $914,000 — The Popular Romance Project has received nearly $1 million from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) since 2010 to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”
  • Mass Destruction of Weapons – (DoD) $7 billion Instead of selling or shipping it back home the Defense Department has decided to destroy $7 billion (more than 170 million pounds) worth of useable vehicles and other military equipment.

Written in a sassy, tongue-in-cheek tone, the Wastebook lets Americans in on the joke that so much of the important, necessary, critical spending that Members of Congress fight for in budget battles and debt ceiling debates is actually stupid, incompetent and careless.

What you’ll notice is that most of the spending occurs at the agency level. Any half-baked idea seems to have a chance before the right NEH, NIH or NEA agent. Yet, those agencies whine about losing programs that help the poor and enrich our nation whenever anyone takes a scalpel to their budget.

This Wastebook makes for good reading. It’s too bad the comic material comes at the expense of the taxpayer. What if we returned that $30 billion to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes or –as sign of austerity-tossed it at the national debt? It would certainly get swallowed up, but at least this might signal that our government is a serious steward of its resources.