WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn's chief target of criticism this year — the U.S. Congress — also topped his annual list of wasteful government spending, as the senator accused federal lawmakers of doing little to justify the $132 million spent on the House and Senate.
“The challenges facing our nation have rarely been so dire for so long,” Coburn's “Wastebook 2012” says. “Yet, never before in recent history have our elected leaders in Washington worked less and been more lax in addressing our nation's problems.”
Coburn, R-Muskogee, and his staff compiled 100 examples of federal spending for his annual book of waste, spanning numerous federal agencies and, even, the tax code. All of the entries, according to Coburn, are ultimately the fault of Congress, either because of action or inaction.
Second on Coburn's new list is the nonprofit tax status of the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the Professional Golfers' Association. The report says the leagues take advantage of a tax provision that allows them to promote their sports, pay high salaries to executives and avoid paying certain taxes. The NFL's nonprofit status dates to 1966.
“Hardworking taxpayers should not be forced to provide funding to offset tax giveaways to lucrative major professional sports teams and leagues,” the report says. “Based on publicly available information about the NFL and NHL alone, barring major leagues from using the nonprofit status may generate at least $91 million of federal revenue every year.”
An Oklahoma agency also made Coburn's list with a move reported on by The Oklahoman in July. The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission voted unanimously to keep open the rarely used airstrip at Lake Murray at least in part to preserve $150,000 in annual federal funding that can be transferred to other airports. The commission's vote came despite the recommendation of the executive director to close the airstrip.
Coburn's report calls the airport “a layover to land government money” and says there is no other apparent reason to justify its existence.
Many of the report's targets are research projects or business promotions funded with federal money. According to the report, NASA spends nearly $1 million a year studying food that could be consumed on a manned mission to Mars, though no such trip is planned. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave a $300,000 “value-added producer” grant to a caviar producer to promote the product.
The report goes after relatively small expenditures — Michigan state police used $10,000 in federal funds to buy talking urinal cakes that warned people against drunken driving — and large ones — $4.5 billion in questionable and possibly illegal food stamp purchases.
The report also criticizes pennies — that is, the making of them.
It cost 2.4 cents this year to produce a penny, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, largely because of higher prices for zinc and copper. Using a steel alloy, as proposed by the department, would require an act of Congress.
But, in Coburn's assessment, getting congressional approval of anything is a tall order.
“Whether it was failing to hold oversight hearings, pass laws, cut unnecessary spending or simply cast votes on amendments, the U.S. Congress let taxpayers down in 2012,” the senator's wastebook says.