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Coburn details $18B in wasted federal funds in 2012

Oct. 16, 2012 - 03:14PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Monday released his annual Wastebook report, identifying more than $18 billion in federal costs he said were wasteful this year. “Washington priorities are backwards,” Coburn said in the introduction to his report.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Monday released his annual Wastebook report, identifying more than $18 billion in federal costs he said were wasteful this year. “Washington priorities are backwards,” Coburn said in the introduction to his report. (Sheila Vemmer / Staff)

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Monday released his annual Wastebook report, identifying more than $18 billion in federal costs he said were wasteful this year.

“Washington priorities are backwards,” Coburn said in the introduction to his report, titled “Wastebook 2012.” “This is why important programs go bankrupt while outdated and outlandish projects continue to be funded.”

Coburn reserved some of his harshest remarks for his colleagues in Congress, which he said wasted $132 million this year by not tackling much of anything.

“The challenges facing our nation have rarely been so dire for so long,” Coburn said. “Yet, never before in recent history have our elected leaders in Washington worked less and been more lax in addressing our nation’s problems.”

Among the 2012 costs Coburn cites as wasteful:

• $4.5 billion in food stamp funds that people used to buy junk food, Starbucks drinks, alcohol, diapers and condoms. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allows recipients to buy sugar-sweetened drinks, fast food, gourmet coffee, and candy with food stamps, but Coburn said it is wasteful to spend government funds on food that contains little or no nutritional value. Coburn also cited local news reports that found some people bought beer, diapers, condoms, cigarettes and other unallowable items with their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

• At least $1 billion on duplicative medical treatment for veterans. Most veterans are eligible for health care from the Veterans Affairs Department, Coburn said, but many also enroll in Medicare Advantage. Since the government pays for Medicare Advantage enrollees regardless of how many services they use, it essentially pays twice when veterans use VA’s health services. This could be fixed if the government changed the law to allow VA to seek reimbursement from Medicare Advantage plans for care provided to their enrollees, Coburn said, or if veterans used their Medicare Advantage health care in the first place.

• $91 million in tax loopholes that Coburn said improperly subsidize professional sports leagues. The National Football League, National Hockey League and Professional Golfer’s Association have classified themselves as nonprofit organizations to exempt themselves from federal income taxes, he said.

• $2 million overproducing commemorative stamps that must be destroyed because the U.S. Postal Service didn’t sell them. For example, the Postal Service printed 1 billion stamps depicting The Simpsons, but sold only 318 million in the program’s first two years, wasting $1.2 million alone.

• $947,000 in NASA funding to research and test foods that might be served decades from now during a manned mission to Mars.

“You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realize the millions of dollars being spent to taste test Martian meals that may never be served is lost in a black hole,” Coburn said.

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