After President Trump requested $5.7 billion to fund the border wall he campaigned on in 2016, Democrats have dug in, refusing to appropriate the funds that the administration says are needed to better manage the flow of immigration across the southern border.
Democrats are not traditionally known for their fiscal rectitude but are being particularly parsimonious over what ultimately amounts to a very small percentage of the federal budget. (In 2018, the feds spent $4.173 trillion overall, meaning the border wall would amount to just 1/10th of 1 percent of current annual federal spending.)
Indeed, these lawmakers have happily funded various projects over the years that cost far more than the border wall — many of which had very questionable value. Below are some examples of wasteful federal spending projects that individually cost more than the proposed border wall (some data courtesy of Citizens Against Government Waste):
“Rural Utility Service.” This program costs taxpayers $8.2 billion/year and has no actual purpose after its original intent — bringing electricity to rural communities — was long ago achieved. It’s now being used to bring broadband access to small communities (usually with populations of less than 20,000). However there’s no indication the “beneficiaries” of this expensive government agency actually appreciate the program and the majority of its projects are not completed on time or within budget.
Sugar Subsidies. America, as Democrats frequently intone, faces a health crisis. What they don’t tell us is that it’s largely of their own making, as Congress subsidizes the production of unhealthy foods like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Eliminating sugar subsidies alone would save $6 billion, enough to fund the border wall; it would also have the added benefit of helping curb the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Community Development Grants. These grants were created in the 70s to revitalize failing American cities. The program has almost always been plagued with dysfunction, with grants going to wealthy communities and other recipients failing to produce accountability or results. Citizens Against Government Waste reports that even President Obama called for reining in the program. It’s elimination would save $15 billion over 5 years.
The United Nations. As the United Nation’s largest contributor, the U.S. in 2016 donated $10 billion to the U.N. As CAGW notes, reducing these contributions just 25 percent would create a savings of $12.5 billion over 10 years. Of the money Congress appropriates for the United Nations, 5 million taxpayer dollars are itemized for abortions in foreign countries.
Amtrak. Congress could sell Amtrak to the private sector where it would almost certainly be operated more efficiently, but instead it’s showered in billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies. Over the next five years, these subsidies will cost $9.7 billion.
Unused Real Estate. Congress appropriates money to maintain federal real estate that’s not actually being used. Per CAGW, an October 31, 2017, CRS report found that, “In FY2016, federal agencies owned 3,120 buildings that were vacant (unutilized), and another 7,859 that were partially empty (underutilized).” Current laws require the government to undergo a series of steps before considering a sale of these buildings. Were selling this unused property prioritized, the 5-year savings are estimated at $15 billion. Simply maintaining the unused buildings annually costs $1.7 billion.
Foreign Aid. American taxpayers currently spend more than $50 billion a year helping develop foreign countries. Many of the recipients are not known for being America’s closest allies — such as Egypt, South Sudan, Uganda, South Africa, Russia, the Congo, Sudan, and Zambia — which raises the question of what Americans are receiving in exchange for all of this aid. Cutting these donations back just 10 percent would be enough to fund the wall.
Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. The Government Accountability Office estimates taxpayers are spending more than $137 billion annually on “payment errors,” which covers all manner of waste, fraud, and abuse within Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The feds could implement the same kind of fraud protections credit card companies used to ensure against abuse, but don’t. In fact, Congress has gone in the opposite direction, winding down the program intended to police fraud within Medicare, the so-called Recovery Audit Contractor. In other words, Congress is knowingly funding tens of billions of dollars of fraud annually.
Despite many of of the above projects having arguably negative value, Congress continues to fund them. Eliminating any one of the above would create more than enough savings to fund the White House’s border wall appropriation request.
Of course, other smaller federal spending projects are even more wasteful. Examples abound, but here are a few that are at least amusing:
The feds spent $5 million paying hipsters to stop smoking and then blog about it (as well as use cool anti-smoking swag — like beer koozies). (Readers Digest)
Northwestern University has received more than $3 million in National Institutes of Health to watch hamster fights. “Some of those experiments involved injecting hamsters with steroids, then putting another hamster in the cage to see if the drugged rodents were more aggressive when protecting their territory. This program has since been halted following protests from animal rights activists,” Readers Digest reports.
“The government spent at least $518,000 in federal grants to study how cocaine affects the sexual behavior of Japanese quails,” Readers Digest reports.
The Federal Register is legally required to be printed daily and distributed to Congressional offices despite most never being read and all of the information being available online. Stopping this unnecessary printing would save $1 million a year.
What did we miss? What programs do you think are most wasteful? Let us know in the comments below.