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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.

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This has direct policy implications within government programs, as the Wastebook’s criticism of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the former food stamp program, makes clear. Because SNAP does not require the purchase of healthy food – and regulations in some states allow for the purchase of alcohol or fast food – Coburn argues that well-meaning federal dollars aimed at helping poor families are being used in less-than-helpful ways.

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If you’re permitting SNAP participants to buy Starbucks lattes or alcohol with their food assistance, the question goes, are you really solving the problem of hunger?

3. Can you fix the federal budget deficit by killing everything in the Wastebook? Not even close.

The federal government added more than $1 trillion to the national debt in the 2012 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. All 100 findings in Coburn’s report total just over $18 billion.

But that’s not the point, Coburn says. If you want to cut, you have to get specific about what things you’re going to excise from the federal books.

“The problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund but not specific about what we should cut. As a result, we are chasing robotic squirrels and countless other low-priority projects over a fiscal cliff,” he said in a statement.

4. What’s the pick for most egregious waste of government money? Congress.

The top spot on Coburn’s list is Congress, all $132 million of it. Plummeting approval is the public’s response to an institution not only gridlocked at every turn but capable of producing odd spending priorities.

“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. In fact, many high school student councils have been more deliberative than the US Senate,” thunders the Wastebook. “All that follows in this report can be traced right back to what Congress has and has not done.

"Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution entrusts Congress with the responsibility to approve how money is spent out of the Treasury and to account for such expenditures. Congress approved every cent spent to fund the projects outlined in this report and did nothing to stop any of these expenditures.

"In fact, in many cases members of Congress actually took credit for the projects with no shame. All of the outrageous and wasteful contents of this report were made possible by either the action or lack of action of Congress, earning it the well-deserved but unwanted distinction as the biggest waste of taxpayer money in 2012.”

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