Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Coburn’s 2013 ‘Wastebook’ Features Brothels, NASA and Senate ‘Lifestyle Training’

Coburn released his annual "wastebook" Tuesday. This year's edition is replete with cartoons. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Coburn released his annual “wastebook” Tuesday. This year’s edition is replete with cartoons. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants Congress to stop spending money on things he deems unnecessary — such as “looking for signs of intelligent life in Congress” by giving NASA $3 million to set up a workshop in Washington, D.C., explaining the legislative branch.

Coburn, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released his annual “Wastebook” Tuesday, and if you like a little sass and a lot of cuts in government spending, this is the book for you. Of course, it does not outline a path to make structural changes on either the tax or spending side, but it does highlight approximately 100 projects that cost the government $30 billion, the purpose of which Coburn questions.

A sample of some of the items Coburn would like to eliminate?

  • A $3 million grant to NASA for a week-long seminar in Washington, in conjunction with Georgetown University, to explain how government works to its civil employees
  • $17.5 million in tax breaks to Nevada’s legal brothels
  • $1.7 million to the Senate Office of Education and Training for “lifestyle training” for staffers, including classes such as “The Benefits of a Good Night Sleep”
  • $65 million of emergency Superstorm Sandy funds spent on commercials (Coburn’s lookin’ at you, Chris Christie!)

“Had Congress, in particular, been focused on doing its job of setting priorities and cutting the kind of wasteful spending outlined in this report, we could have avoided both a government shutdown and a flawed budget deal that was designed to avert a shutdown,” Coburn said in a statement. “The nearly $30 billion in questionable and lower-priority spending in Wastebook 2013 is a small fraction of the more than $200 billion we throw away every year through fraud, waste, duplication and mismanagement. There is more than enough stupidity and incompetence in government to allow us to live well below the budget caps. What’s lacking is the common sense and courage in Washington to make those choices — and passage of fiscally-responsible spending bills — possible.”

Though many of these initiatives do not get rolled back after being highlighted by Coburn, the annual reports typically end up serving a purpose for Republicans beyond talking points, because the Oklahoma senator’s staff is one of the few that goes line-by-line through government spending and finds items to cut. In 2011, when the so-called supercommittee was searching for ways to find more than $1 trillion of savings, Republicans turned to Coburn’s report from that year for ideas, in part because they liked them, but also because they were some of the few items readily available.

You can read the full “Wastebook” report here.

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