Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Jeff Flake
Posted on 2015-12-08
FLAKE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Wasteful Spending Mr. FLAKE. Mr. President in the opening scene of ``Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,'' Darth Vader pays an unexpected visit to the construction site of the new Death Star. Of course it was behind schedule and probably overbudget. The commander in charge first claimed that there was no delay, and then he said to Darth Vader that it would be impossible to meet the schedule without more resources. Darth Vader warned the commander that the emperor was ``much displeased'' with the apparent lack of progress, noting that ``the emperor is not as forgiving as I am.'' Government projects being overbudget and behind schedule or just out of this world are not just a problem for the emperor in that galaxy far, far away; they are a problem right here on Earth.
Our own space agency, NASA, can no longer even launch astronauts into orbit, yet NASA is spending $1.2 million to study the impact of microgravity on sheep. NASA is also spending $280,000 to develop plans to build a cloud city on Venus. It is strikingly similar to the cloud city that was featured in ``Star Wars: The Emperor Strikes Back'' where Han Solo was captured in carbonite.
The National Science Foundation is spending $2.6 million in part to design sculptures that would raise awareness of drought and harvest dew, much like the moisture vaporizers on Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine.
The Pentagon is spending $2 million to teach robots how to play jazz and $2.5 million in part to create a robot lobby greeter. These are not the droids taxpayers were looking for.
These are just a few of the examples of projects featured in ``Wastebook: The Farce Awakens,'' which I will release today. This is a spoiler alert, so if you don't want the plot to be ruined, you may want to tune out right now.
Let's walk through some of these other ``Wastebook'' entries. They include $1 million to put monkeys in hamster balls on a treadmill. A couple of years ago, Senator Tom Coburn famously found the example of the study of shrimp on treadmills underwater, but I think this outdoes it. Now we have monkeys not only on a treadmill but monkeys in a hamster ball on a treadmill--$1 million for that study.
We are spending $5 million to throw parties for hipsters. These parties for hipsters are an attempt--and how we define a hipster is quite a work of art as well--to try to keep them from smoking. They admit that it didn't succeed very well, so they ended up just giving out cash to try to induce hipsters to stop smoking. Good work if you can get it, I guess.
Another $43 million went to build a single gas station in Afghanistan that dispenses a type of fuel--natural gas in this case--that very few automobiles in the country can even run on.
Despite all of the public ballyhooing over budget austerity, Washington didn't come up short on outlandish ways to spend and waste money in 2015. All of the examples in the ``Wastebook'' we have here had to have money spent during 2015.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of talk about the gridlock in Washington, but no matter how bad the gridlock gets or how bad it appears, there is always one area of agreement here between the parties, and that is to spend more money. For example, at the end of October Congress passed a budget deal that cut $3 billion in taxpayer- funded subsidies to private insurance companies that service Federal crop insurance policies. That deal was sold, in part, on the savings generated through the spending cut. Last week, this body voted overwhelmingly to restore all $3 billion of those crop insurance subsidies, which, again, only go to private insurance companies. This was part of the highway bill that came to the floor. So spending that we had cut just a month ago in the budget deal was reversed 36 days later in an agreement that passed even before we passed the original bill to obliterate these savings. So it took Congress only 36 days to go back on these cuts. I am not sure that the Millennium Falcon can pull a 360 with that kind of ease.
Washington equates caring with the amount of dollars spent, but no amount of dollars and cents can make up for the lack of common sense in how millions of dollars of taxpayer money is being spent.
Consider this: We outline in the ``Wastebook'' more than $2 million spent this year by the Agency for International Development, USAID, to promote tourism in Lebanon. Lebanon is the same country that our State Department has warned American tourists not to go to. We are spending $2 million in one agency to promote tourism to a country that another agency, the State Department, says: Please don't go there for tourism. What kind of sense does that make? Suicide bombers have killed more than 60 people and injured hundreds more in the last 2 years there. It is no wonder the State Department is saying don't go, but the Agency for International Development is spending $2 million to say: Please go there for tourism.
The Department of Homeland Security spent $3 million on party buses and luxury coaches to go to the playground of the rich and famous. Taxpayer money is being spent on buses and luxury coaches to go to the playground of the rich and famous by the Department of Homeland Security. How does that make sense? This one puzzles me. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is spending more than $104 million a year subsidizing the rent of the well-off, including those who make better than six-figure incomes and have millions of dollars in assets, while 300,000 low-income families are on waiting lists for housing assistance. So we are spending $104 million to subsidize those with six-figure incomes to live in public housing while 300,000 people who are truly low income wait on a waiting list. Somebody at one of the local housing authorities was asked why we don't just kick out the people who have incomes far too high to qualify. The answer was revealing. He said: We can't do that because they serve as role models for those who are truly low income in those facilities. Think about that. Those who are fleecing the taxpayers are role models for those in public housing who actually have low income.
As I mentioned before, the Pentagon is spending $2 million to teach robots how to play jazz music. The Department of Agriculture spent $68,000 in foreign food aid to send a group to the Great American Beer Festival to promote beer in Vietnam. So we spent [[Page S8460]] $68,000 in foreign food aid to have a bunch of people go to the Great American Beer Festival.
The National Institutes of Health spent about $1 million, as I mentioned, on the monkey-on-a-treadmill study. The purpose of this research was to determine if other studies could be conducted of monkeys on treadmills. I think everybody will have to agree that this is totally bananas. I mean, we can't continue to spend money like this.
Many other taxpayer-funded science projects sounded like they were concocted in a frat house rather than a government research agency, like the next example. The National Science Foundation spent $103 million to study if koozies really keep a cool drink in a can cool or if it is just wishful thinking. I think we have had plenty of studies on evaporation and condensation to know what really happens, but these studies were conducted with a koozie in somebody's bathroom or laundry room somewhere. It doesn't really qualify as serious science. Yet we spent $1.3 million on a grant to do just that. You have to watch the video. You have to see it.
The National Institute for Drug Abuse spent nearly $1 million to prove that pizza is as addictive as crack. The result of the study will be a surprise to no one.
The NSF is spending over $1 million on dating studies, including why attractive people date those who are not attractive and what makes those looking for love online ``swipe right'' and pursue a romantic relationship. Why in the world we are allowing the NSF to spend money on dating studies in order to find out why people, like my wife, would date somebody less attractive, like me--I mean, some of these things we will just have to let go and not spend taxpayer money on them.
These price tags are pocket change to the big spenders in Washington who collectively burn through $7 million a minute, as we all know. Nobody can really keep track of how or why some of this money is spent. The purpose for ``Wastebook'' this year--it was created to do our best to hold those accountable who are spending this money.
In his farewell address a year ago, Senator Tom Coburn, who created ``Wastebook,'' challenged every Member of Congress to produce their own ``Wastebook'' and start a real debate about national spending and budget priorities. While it is impossible to emulate or replace Dr. Coburn, he has given us a great example to follow.
As a longtime admirer, former colleague, and friend of Dr. Coburn, I feel it is a great and heavy responsibility to join others, like Senator James Lankford and John McCain, in carrying forward the Coburn legacy of stopping wasteful Washington spending and bringing some kind of oversight to this. Colleagues can find the full list of 100 ``Wastebook'' entries on my Web site as well.
As you glance through it, ask yourself if the Federal Government is really being as frugal and as underfunded as it claims to be. Ask yourself: Are we really cutting to the bone? Is there no more fat left to cut? We hear that continually. Sequester-level spending has brought us to the brink so there is just nowhere else to cut.
It is my hope--my only hope--that this report gives Congress something to Chewie on--and the end of bad puns, too, I hope--before debt- and deficit-saddled taxpayers finally strike back at this lunacy.
I commend this ``Wastebook'' to all who will read it. As I mentioned, you can reach it on our Web site as well.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Virginia.