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Updated: 8:44 p.m.
Sen. Tom Coburn thinks he’s found another “Bridge to Nowhere” — and unlike that one in Alaska, this one has no pragmatic use.
The Oklahoma Republican released his annual “Wastebook” on Tuesday, outlining 100 ways that he says the government squanders more than $18 billion in taxpayer money. For instance, Coburn says the federal government plans to spend roughly $520,000 through the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program to repair a covered bridge in Greene County, Ohio.
Unlike many other covered bridges, it is not used for vehicular travel. The original “Bridge to Nowhere” would have connected Ketchikan, Alaska, to a neighboring island.
There may be a historic preservation argument for maintaining the bridge, but Coburn wants people to ask questions about federal priorities.
“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,” Coburn said, in reference to a project funded through the National Science Foundation.
Coburn uses material from his reports throughout the year to try to get the Senate to adopt minuscule — but symbolic — budget cuts, often by offering amendments to unrelated legislation.
The dollar values of individual projects range from very small, relative to federal spending, to quite large. No. 86 on the list is $25,000 in funding from the Agriculture Department to the Alabama Watermelon Association to pay costs associated with the state’s watermelon queen.
“The 2012 queen was crowned at the association’s annual conference held earlier this year at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino,” the report says. “Four beautiful contestants participated in evening gown and seed-spitting competitions to win the crown.”
USDA funds have supported a variety of marketing programs for agricultural products, such as the much better known “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign.
Projects that generate laughs will make headlines, but Coburn also uses his report to critique some facets of government management in even the most mundane areas.
“Clipping coupons, comparing prices, buying in bulk, and even shopping on double coupon days, many Americans are doing everything they can to save a penny wherever they can to stretch a dollar further during these difficult economic times,” the report says. “The stewards of taxpayers’ dollars in Washington unfortunately are not being as thrifty.”
Coburn highlights misuse and abuse of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. The report expresses concern about SNAP marketing campaigns and benefits going to those making more money than allowed by program rules. It also warns of people using SNAP to buy food that provides little nutritional value.