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Posts Tagged ‘Pork-Barrel Spending’

Remember the Spending Quiz from 2010, which asked people to guess whether absurd examples of government waste were true or false?

Well, we have a new video on government waste, though bureaucrats and politicians have become so profligate it doesn’t even bother to trick people with fake examples.

While very well done, I do have two small complaints about the video.

First, it asks whether we should cut spending or raise taxes to deal with the national debt. I think that’s too narrow. We shouldn’t be wasting money even if the budget was balanced and there wasn’t a penny of debt.

In other words, the problem isn’t deficits. Red ink is just a symptom. The real problem is that government is too big.

Second, the video sort of acquiesces to the dishonest Washington terminology by asking whether we should cut spending or raise taxes, implying those are the only two options. I favor genuine spending cuts, of course, but the most accurate way of phrasing the question is to ask whether we should cut spending, restrain spending, or let government grow on auto-pilot.

As I explained earlier this year, we can balance the budget in just 10 years if spending grows “only” 3.4 percent per year. When people understand that detail, there’s almost no support for higher taxes.

But I’m nitpicking. Overall, a very good video.

P.S. If the examples of pork-barrel spending in the video get you angry, you’ll probably have a stroke if you also watch the waste video from the folks at Government Gone Wild.

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Taxpayers all across America send lots of money to Washington, DC, in part because we’re supposed to believe that redistribution is a legitimate and desirable function of the federal government.

But this is a very perverse form of redistribution. All that money going to Washington helps subsidize a network of overpaid bureaucrats, fat-cat lobbyists, corrupt politicians, and well-heeled interest groups.

Indeed, as shown in this map, 10 of the 15 richest counties in the country are in the Washington metropolitan area.

One of those wealthy areas is Arlington County, VA, just across the river from Washington. Home to thousands of federal bureaucrats and other DC insiders, Arlington is similar to Washington in that there is a lot of wasteful spending. Sort of makes you wonder if local bureaucrats and federal bureaucrats ever meet at bars after work and brag about who wasted the most money that day?

Anyhow, here are some sordid details from a Washington Post story.

A wall made of etched glass opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping. Embedded in the floor are heating elements intended to ward off the cold weather and keep winter-weary feet cozy. …And the price tag: $1 million. “Is this made of gold?” asked commuter Yohannes Kaleab, examining the concrete-and-stainless-steel bench that is part of the new, seven-figure bus shelter. “What?” asked Robin Stewart as he learned of the cost of the structure while waiting for a bus there last week. “That’s ridiculous. From a citizen, from a voter, whoever put that budget through needs to get their butt canned. It’s an outrage.” The “super stop,” which opened March 11, is the first of 24 new bus stops that will also accommodate Arlington’s long-planned streetcars. …It will shelter 15 people at a time.

Boondoggle Bus Stop

$1 million for this bit of glass, metal, and concrete?!?

That sounds kind of expensive, but we can be comforted by the fact that thoughtful public servants predict future savings.

“When you do a prototype, you end up heavily front-loading on the costs,” said Dennis Leach, Arlington’s transportation director.

So how much will taxpayers save on the remaining 23 stops? Well, the good news is that they won’t cost $1 million each. The bad news is that the government doesn’t exactly save a lot of money when doing bulk purchases.

“Our goal if at all possible is to do it for less,” Leach said. The county has budgeted $20.8 million for the remaining 23 stops, or about $904,000 for each one.

Gee, knock me over with a feather. The additional bus stops will “only” be $904,000!

That’s not counting cost overruns, which are an inevitable reality with government budgeting, so I think it’s safe to assume that the final cost will be far higher.

So why do governments waste money like this?

Part of the answer, of course, is that politicians are inherently wasteful. But there’s another factor at play. Politicians are especially wasteful when they can spend money that isn’t collected from their own taxpayers.

And readers from other parts of America doubtlessly will be overjoyed to learn that their paying for a big chunk of this boondoggle.

Federal and state transportation money paid 80 percent of the costs.

With taxpayers outside of Arlington paying such a high share of the cost, we should think of ourselves as lucky that the bus stop didn’t cost $10 million!

But here’s the most amazing part of the story.

What’s the most important part of a bus stop? In theory, a bus stop can be nothing more than a sign indicating the spot where you should wait for a bus.

But if you’re going to build a structure, the most valuable feature – at least from the perspective of riders – is that you will be protected from the weather. So what sort of protection are riders getting as a result of this $1 million boondoggle? Meh, not so much.

…the bus shelter is “pretty, but I was struck by the fact that if it’s pouring rain, I’m going to get wet, and if it’s cold, the wind is going to be blowing on me. It doesn’t seem to be a shelter. It doesn’t really shelter you very much . . . you can get pretty soaked in two minutes.” Her opinion was shared by some on Columbia Pike trying it out.

Gee, isn’t this wonderful. Some contractors doubtlessly lined their pockets building this white elephant. Some consultants doubtlessly fattened their bank accounts with all the nonsense that is now part of the “planning” process.

But taxpayers, as usual, got the short end of the stick. They got taken for a ride, figuratively. And if they actually use the bus stop, they can get taken for a ride, literally, so long as they don’t mind getting wet.

P.S. And let’s not forget that Obama wants some more class-warfare tax hikes to finance more of this “investment.”

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I agree with George Will that it’s okay to reduce Pentagon spending. After all, the United States accounts for almost one-half of the world’s military outlays, about twice as much as the combined total of possible enemies.

But I also agree that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, so I want to make sure we get the most bang for the buck (no pun intended) from every penny.

That’s why I get especially irritated when I read horror stories about Pentagon waste.

But in many cases, it’s not the fault of the Generals and Admirals. America’s military is forced to waste money because the politicians in Washington are motivated by cronyism, corruption, pork, and political correctness.

For example, let’s look at an excerpt from a column in the Washington Examiner.

Imagine you’re a legislator in a country with a bloated budget of almost $4 trillion and a record level of spending that requires massive deficits and could mean job-killing tax increases. Now imagine you’ve got a weapons program that is billions over budget, a decade behind schedule and unwanted even by those for whom it is intended. What would you do? If you said, “Earmark the program another $380 million,” you’re apparently qualified to serve on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. The weapons program is the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a joint venture with Germany and Italy that was zeroed out by three of four relevant congressional funding authorities. But the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense decided the program was worth a $380 million earmark, and the full committee passed the final bill along with a unanimous vote.

I’m not an expert on weapons systems. Heck, I know less about such matters than Obama’s cabinet knows about the economy. But it certainly seems foolish to throw good money after bad on a program that doesn’t work. Especially when the military doesn’t want it!

And here are a couple of sentences from a Forbes column about part of the military budget being diverted to subsidize solar power.

EPA regional headquarters?

The U.S. Army is looking for a few good renewable energy projects. Some $7 billion worth. On Tuesday the Army began accepting bids for green energy installations that will be deployed on military bases and facilities across the U.S. The Army will sign contracts to buy the electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects for up to 30 years. …The program is part of a Department of Defense initiative to meet at least 25% of energy demand on its bases from renewable sources by 2025. The military is also aiming its bases to become “net zero” consumers of electricity – generating more power than they use by installing solar and other renewable energy systems.

Silly me. I thought the Pentagon was responsible for keeping the nation safe. I guess I missed the memo where it was tasked with being a tool for the green agenda.

These examples doubtlessly are just the tip of the iceberg. Politicians can’t resist turning anything they touch into a vehicle for graft, waste, and foolishness.

To be sure, there are also big picture issues of national security that have to be resolved. Is NATO now an anachronism, as Steve Chapman persuasively argues? Is overseas intervention a pointless exercise, as Mark Steyn explains?

But whatever the mission, the Pentagon’s ability to carry it out is compromised when politicians treat the military budget like a goodie bag.

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Every time some class-warfare Democrat or Charlie Brown Republican says we need higher taxes, I think of all the ways the government wastes money and I get angry because the political elite is ripping off the American people.

Should we send more money to Washington when the federal government is:

And those are just examples of nickel-and-dime programs. The bigger outrage is that politicians have created costly, inefficient, and bankrupt entitlement programs that threaten our fiscal future.

But the small examples have symbolic value, and now I have something new to add to the list. The idiots at the State Department thought it was just fine and dandy to pay 35 times the market price for some Kindles.

“Hey, let’s stimulate the economy by paying 35 times the retail price!”

IPads are too fancy, Nooks aren’t fancy enough, but Kindles are just right for teaching English, the State Department thinks, which is why it bought 2,500 of them from Amazon in a $16.5 million no-bid contract, NextGov’s Dawn Lim reports. That works out to $6,600 per Kindle Touch — a lot more than the $189 retail price. The plan, according to Kim, is to send the e-readers to “designated libraries and U.S.-friendly educational centers around the world.”

Since your paying for this ripoff, you might be a tad bit irritated. But that’s only because you’re an unsophisticated taxpayer. According to PR hacks, we really are getting a good deal because of all the extras in the agreement. Put down your coffee or soda before reading this passage from the report because I don’t want to be responsible for liquid on your computer screen.

Amazon is responsible for shipping the Kindles, providing 24-7 customer service, sharing data on how the Kindles are used to access content and pushing serialized content to the Kindles regularly. Amazon is also responsible for disabling “standard features, as as [sic.] requested by DoS, for the device such as individual purchasing ability.”

Wow, free shipping. That’s worth a lot. And the customer service surely adds a couple of bucks per unit, not to mention the extra pennies it must cost to disable features and provide electronic updates.

But let’s not be too hard on clueless bureaucrats. Maybe they just don’t understand high tech. After all, moronic government officials paid more than $22,000 each for big institutional Internet routers hooked up to just a handful of computers.

It’s almost enough to make you think government spending is the problem rather than the solution.

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I sometimes get accused of being too libertarian. One leftist blogger even said my views are insane.

So I decided to show my open-mindedness by finding a way to praise big government. It took a bit of head scratching, but I think I discovered something that is impressive, sort of.

As you can see in this chart prepared by the Republican Study Committee, the federal government is remarkably effective at wasting money with duplication and featherbedding.

But I don’t want to be chintzy in my praise of the federal government. If you look at the areas where there is the most duplication and waste, you’ll find programs for energy, housing, and education – all of which are areas where the Constitution does not authorize spending and intervention by the federal government. So let’s also praise the politicians in Washington for their agility in sidestepping the system set up by the Founding Fathers!

And let’s not be shy about crediting the political elite for shoulder-to-the-grindstone diligence. It takes a certain dedication – or something like that – to continue to pour money into these programs when all the evidence suggests federal involvement in education has undermined outcomes, that federal housing programs helped cause the financial crisis, and that federal energy programs have become cesspools for cronyism.

I know I’m guilty of sometime posting absurd examples of government stupidity. I hope today’s post shows that I’m capable of looking at the positive side of government.

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I’ve written before about the importance of getting rid of the Department of Transportation, and I’ve also written about Republicans getting in bed with big government.

So you can imagine how agitated I was to read this article about transportation spending at National Review. Written by Andrew McCarthy, it shows that the GOP still has a long way to go before cleansing themselves of the big-government corruption of the Bush-Rove years. Here are some nauseating passages.

The problem is not the GOP infighting. The problem is the GOP. Republicans are simply not interested in limiting government or addressing our death spiral of spending. …The federal government should not be in the transportation business at all. A federal role was rationalized in the mid-Fifties to finance the construction of interstate highways. As National Review’s editors observed in 2005, that project was completed in the early Eighties, at which time the fuel tax that funded it should have been repealed and the upkeep of highways left to the states. “Instead,” they wrote, “Congress morphed the program into a slush fund for some of its most indefensible pork-barrel spending.” …see how easily a “highway system” morphs into a “transportation system.” The taxes that Leviathan confiscates from drivers, purportedly for road construction and maintenance, are actually redistributed to subsidize other forms of transit preferred by progressives — including walking. For that, you can thank Republicans. With a compassionate wink from President Bush, the Republican Congress enacted an obscene $286.5 billion transportation bill in 2005… SAFETEA-LU featured all the uglies that outraged voters into telling the GOP to take a hike in the 2006 and 2008 elections. These included Alaska’s infamous $250 million “Bridge to Nowhere,” one of the bill’s 6,376 earmarks totaling $24 billion — you know, the sorts of budget-busting recklessness Republicans promised us they’d sworn off in order to get elected in 2010. …And now that the “Pledge to America” crowd that promised to stop the madness is back in charge, what do you suppose the plan is? Why, to persist in the madness. Team Boehner, whose “pledge” to voters explicitly promised “to stop out-of-control spending and reduce the size of government,” proposes to continue funding transportation at “current levels” for the next five years, which translates to an additional budget shortfall of about $60 billion dollars. So much for decrying “Washington Democrats [who] refuse to listen to the American people and eliminate, restrain, or even budget for their out-of-control spending spree.” …Naturally, conservatives who expected Republicans to do what they promised are apt to go ballistic. So, just as in the debt-ceiling fiasco, the establishment’s plan is to dazzle the rubes with some smoke-and-mirrors. On the debt ceiling, it was phantom cuts that would occur, um, someday. This time around it is a commitment to ramp up oil and gas production, the additional revenues from which, we’re told, will alleviate the transportation burden. …The brute fact is that today’s Republican establishment does not believe in limited government. “Limited government” is a slogan reserved for campaigns and fund-raising drives. The idea is not to rein in big government; it’s to hold the reins of big government.

Amen. Every time someone posts a comment or sends an email to complain that I’m too mean to GOPers, they should read this column. Principles should come first, not the self interest of a political party filled with corrupt hacks.

Yes, I realize that “corrupt hacks” is a bit unfair and over the top. After all, these are the folks who voted last year for real entitlement reform, so I need to remind myself that politicians are combinations of good and bad.

But this transportation bill shows what happens when the bad part is running amok.

And it teaches us a lesson that it is not progress to replace big-spending Democrats with big-spending Republicans.

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I was nauseated when Newt Gingrich did the infamous global warming ad with Nancy Pelosi.

I was disgusted when he criticized Paul Ryan’s entitlement reforms.

But I’m not sure what my reaction is to Newt’s latest brain fart. For lack of anything clever, let’s just say I’m bemused by his proposed galactic boondoggle.

Here are some of the absurd details for a Politico report.

Newt Gingrich wants to colonize the moon. …“By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American,” Gingrich said… It’s just the kind of Gingrich big-think for which he has been ridiculed by others in the GOP field, including Mitt Romney. But Wednesday’s speech — which Gingrich himself called “grandiose” — could actually resonate politically in Florida, where space exploration is good politics… Gingrich even envisions a moon state. “When we have 13,000 Americans living on the moon, they can petition to become a state,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. …But Gingrich’s space fantasies don’t stop at the moon. He wants to see trips to Mars by 2020. “By the end of 2020, we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time because I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I am sick of being told we have to be limited in technologies that are 50 years old,” he said.

But I’m not just bemused. To use Newt’s rhetoric, I am sick of politicians coming up with new ways to spend my money and I am sick of being told by the clowns in Washington that my wallet is a pinata to fund their grandiose dreams.

If Newt likes space travel and wants a base on the moon and trips to Mars, then he should take some of the money he “earned” as Freddie Mac’s “historian” and invest it in a space company.

About 10 days ago, I was in the British Virgin Islands, speaking at a conference that was keynoted by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin empire. Branson is doing what Newt wants, but in an ethical fashion. He’s using private money to set up a profit-making space-travel business.

Too bad politics and ethics are mutually exclusive concepts.

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