A book on waste

With the nation facing a more than $1 trillion deficit and $15 trillion debt, Congress and the White House spent most of 2011 arguing over what spending should be cut from the $3.7 trillion federal budget to begin putting America on a saner, sturdier financial path.

Despite a series of showdowns, deadlines, triggers, accounting gimmicks and supercommittees, no progress was made.

If that wasn’t shocking, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and his staff have assembled a sobering list of federally funded programs and projects that makes a mockery of the Washington mindset.

The Oklahoma Republican’s annual "Wastebook" identifies 100 items totaling $6.5 billion. They range in size from $30 million to boost mango sales for Pakistani farmers to $113,277 to support a video game museum in New York.

Among the highlights (or perhaps lowlights):

-- $10 million to remake "Sesame Street" in Pakistan. (Good thing Pakistan is such a close ally of the United States.)

-- $175,587 to the University of Kentucky to research the effects cocaine use has on the sex drive of Japanese quail. That is an extension of the program, which in 2010 received a grant of $181,406.

-- Nearly $800,000 went to subsidize putting an International House of Pancakes restaurant in what was judged to be an "underserved community" -- the suburban Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Columbia Heights. Other businesses in the area (hopefully without taxpayer subsidies) include Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, and Starbucks.

-- At least $1 billion in tax credits for energy-efficient residential improvements was claimed by individuals with no record of owning a home -- including prisoners and underage children.

-- $17.8 million in aid to China -- which happens to be the largest holder of U.S. debt.

The Wastebook is not a road map to balancing the budget. Its tabulation represents mere pocket change compared to the big-ticket budgetary items such as entitlements and defense that are bankrupting America. If President Obama by stroke of his pen were able to eliminate every single one of these turkeys, the country would still be facing financial ruin.

Still, it’s worth asking if Congress can’t clean up these relatively minor, largely symbolic messes, it could find the courage to tackle the true sources of fiscal misery.

Furthermore, the funding is indicative of how far Congress has strayed from the founding principles of limited government.

As Coburn asks in the introduction to the Wastebook: "As you look at these examples, regardless of your personal political persuasion, ask yourself: Would you agree with Washington these represent national priorities or would you agree these reflect the wasteful spending habits that threaten to bankrupt the future of the American Dream?"