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From the 'Wastebook': robotic squirrels, talking urinals, and Congress

Sen. Tom Coburn's annual Wastebook comes up with $18 billion of spending that never should have occurred, with an eye to getting Washington priorities back in line. The No. 1 wasteful item: $132 million to run a Congress that won't say no to waste.

By Staff writer / October 16, 2012

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, shown here at a Senate hearing on May 10, 2011, released a new version of his annual 'Wastebook' on Monday.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File

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Washington

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma has issued his annual “Wastebook,” the 100 government expenditures that should not have been.
 
“Until Congress has the guts to cut specific programs,” Senator Coburn said in a statement, “we will never get our debt under control.”

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Here are the top four takeaways from the 2012 Wastebook.

1. Can Smokey Bear and the Alabama Watermelon Queen take a robot squirrel into their hot air balloon while lugging a sack of talking urinal cakes?

Coburn turns up a trove of government spending that, well, you just couldn’t make up if you tried.

Some of our favorites include $10,000 for talking urinal cakes in Michigan (to fight drunken driving), $142,000 for a Department of Transportation grant offering free bus rides to Super Bowl attendees in Indianapolis, $25,000 for the Alabama Watermelon Queen to tour the state to promote her prized crop, just under $50,000 for Smokey Bear hot-air balloon rides, and $325,000 for a robot squirrel designed to help test the relationship between squirrels and rattlesnakes. (Hint: antagonistic.)

And that’s in addition to the report’s wry commentary on ending penny production (saving $70 million per year to produce $35 million worth of pennies), a $350,000 National Science Foundation grant about golfers needing to “envision a bigger hole” to improve their putting, and $445,000 on a play about biodiversity and climate change that reviews deemed “boring” and “needed improvement.”

2. Are there serious policy issues in there alongside the Alabama Watermelon Queen?

Foremost of Coburn’s tough questions is this: Is Washington keeping its priorities in order?

With real and imminent needs in the American economy, every dollar spent wastefully is one that could have gone to a higher purpose.

“How many of our friends, families and neighbors could be fed with the nearly $1 million the government spent taste testing foods to be served on the planet Mars? How many nutritious school lunches could have been served with the $2 million in financial assistance provided to cupcake specialty shops?” the Wastebook asks.

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