Watchdog group finds nearly $7 billion of wasteful government spending

(AP Photo)

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a non-partisan, non-profit organization, has released their 2017 Congressional Pig Book. This yearly report identifies ‘pork barrel’ spending items by calling out lawmakers who are responsible for wasteful spending through earmarks.

“You don’t have to be a vet of Washington to understand that by leaving any door of funding open even slightly, money will find the loophole every single time,” Curtis Kalin, spokesman for CAGW, told Red Alert Politics.

“Pork barrel spending” is a term that describes the use of government’s funds for lawmakers local ‘pet projects,’ which have been widely criticized by both sides of the aisle. For 25 years, the Pig Book has worked to expose ‘useless’ spending to taxpayers.

The 2017 Congressional Pig Book found a nearly 33 percent increase in earmarks than the 2016 fiscal year. Despite the recently renewed ban on earmarks that has been in place for six years now, the CAGW found 163 earmarks for the 2017 fiscal year with the cost totaling more than $6.8 billion.

The watchdog group scrutinized the Department of Defense who they claim has received the most earmarks at the highest cost to taxpayers since 1994. The report found that pork barrel spending is ‘alive and well’ in Washington, but are hopeful that under the new administration wasteful spending will change.

“We’ve always said, in all of our reports going back decades, we would like to see the government run more like a business. I think the best way to do that is to have a business person in office, in general, in the Senate and House and especially the White House,” Kalin continued.

Kalin said that, for the first time ever, the president’s proposed budget reflected not just cuts, but a full elimination of programs that the CAGW had recommended.

“It is rewarding to see things that you’ve been working for and standing for, for years and years, get recognition from the White House,” Kalin said.

The watchdog group acknowledged that President Obama had a much smaller list in the back of his budget of cuts and eliminations, some of which overlapped with President Trump’s proposal.

“When Obama and Trump both agree that something should be cut then you know it should be cut,” Kalin said.

The CAGW claims that their recommendations, since 1984, has helped save $1.5 trillion of taxpayer money. Numerous top lawmakers like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker have been outspoken supporters of the CAGW yearly findings.

A few of the CAGW’s suggested eliminations:

Eliminate federal subsidies for Amtrak:  

The CAGW says it will save more than $7 billion over five years by eliminating federal subsidies for Amtrak. Studies have found that Amtrak lost $834 million on food services alone since 2002. Amtrak says that they increased ridership by 3.5 percent each year, however, CAGW’s reports find that ridership is only increasing on one specific railway, the Northeast tracks. Amtrak even admitted that their long distance tracking is seldom used and cost the most to operate.

“Any well-managed privately owned business would have shut down these lines years ago. But, instead of exercising simple business sense, Amtrak has instead requested an additional $1.8 billion for FY 2017,” the CAGW report states.

Eliminate Save America’s Treasures grant:

The report exposed a $5 million Save America’s Treasures (SAT) grant that has supported operations of theaters, museums, and opera houses. CAGW says that this grant has been used as an ‘earmark for personal parochial stuff and potential corruption.’

“You’re talking about playing with taxpayer’s money, subsidizing rich people’s wedding ceremonies, which has been a result of previous grants,” he said.

Kalin explained that back in 2008 under the SAT grant, there was $147,000 appropriated to a mansion in Old Westbury, New York. The mansion was placed on weddingspot.com, where two weddings cost $73,000 and $86,000, respectively.

“Those two weddings paid for the earmark. Anybody would say that doesn’t make any sense. Why are taxpayers subsidizing places for upscale weddings?” he told RAP.

Elimination of NEH and NEA:

CAGW called for a complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) saying it will save more than $5 billion over five years. Senator Flake (R-AZ) found absurd expenditures from these endowments such as $150,000 for puppet shows and $60,000 to fund a play on zombies in Washington, D.C.

By eliminating these endowments, the CAGW says it will encourage private donors to fund these plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly articles. However, Kalin insisted that it should not be forced to fall all on taxpayers.

“There’s a lot of money flying around in private endowments. It’s not like art will cease if we don’t do this. It’s a matter of priorities for taxpayers. I don’t think endowments that fund zombie plays and puppet shows rise to the level of a national priority.”

One dollar coins instead of one dollar bills:

One change the CAGW recommends will affect taxpayers wallets in multiple ways. The CAGW says that replacing the one dollar bill with a one dollar coin would save $730 million dollars over five years.

“The main hurdle with that [is] in people’s minds. Some people like the bill. They like having it in their hand. It’s a tactile response. I completely get that, and I have a soft spot for that kind of stuff, too. But it’s hard to argue the financial benefits,” Kalin said.

These are just a few of the recommended cuts that the CAGW has laid out in their pig book and prime cuts review of government spending and waste. You can read the full reports here: https://www.cagw.org/reporting/pig-book


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