Whether you believe the involvement of the federal government in our everyday lives is a good thing or a bad thing, I'm betting we can all agree on one thing: Lawmakers in Washington continue to misspend our money. Big time. There ought to be a law, but there isn't.
Pork barrel politics is still alive and well in the United States Congress. Bipartisan congressmen and congresswomen still elbow one another to win special-interest money for their state while decrying the practice to voters.
This matters because our federal deficit is now over $21 trillion. Yep, that's "trillion" with a "t."
According to OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit website devoted to transparency in federal spending, our elected representatives in Congress doled out $583 billion in grants in fiscal year 2016, the bulk of it going to Health and Human Services programs. Naturally, some are much needed, like those grants for more cancer research and programs like Head Start, and those for needy senior citizens. But some grants just make me angry:
—Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California managed to get $1.5 million from HHS for the California Prostitutes Education Project. This program "seeks to teach prostitutes about safer sex and needle use in a way that's respectful to its clients' lifestyle and choices," as Fox News puts it. Say what? Selling sex for money is illegal in California and 48 other states, so, in effect, the HHS gave money to promote criminal activity.
—Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama got NASA to give $2.5 million to his state's Space Science Exhibit Commission. The money will go to produce "Space Racers," a cartoon series for kids that features characters who zoom off on galactic adventures. So, there aren't enough cartoons and action films out there already?
—Congresswoman Terri Sewell, also of Alabama, helped the University of Alabama get $183,750 to develop a virtual reality platform to teach kids how to safely cross the street — in China! I'm thinking the Chinese should probably do that themselves.
—Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois secured $173,089 for Northern Illinois University so it could conduct a monthlong study during which "radically diverse bisexual women" documented what they perceived to be microaggressions against them in a daily e-diary. One hundred and seventy-three thousand dollars for a four-week study seems a bit expensive, doesn't it?
—Congressman Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts won more than $200,000 for a program to study condom design, specifically the "lack of adequate lubrication" that is currently "a universal drawback." Huh? Aren't there plenty of condom companies already doing this kind of research?
And speaking of private companies getting government largesse, why did $3.2 billion in taxpayer-funded subsides go to firms on the Fortune 100 list? One example: Boeing got $774 million in federal grants over three years. Yet it reported $95 billion in sales revenue in 2016. Shouldn't Boeing pay for its own research?
And could we please take a look at what the federal government doles out in farm subsidies? In the last fiscal year, Uncle Sam handed out $13.2 billion in farm supports. That included awards to dead people, celebrities and bigwigs in places like Beverly Hills and Malibu in California, Fisher Island and Palm Beach in Florida, and, as columnist Deroy Murdock wrote, other places "that have not seen a tractor since they last staged Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Oklahoma!'" Rocker Bruce Springsteen, NBA great Scottie Pippen and racial rabble-rouser Louis Farrakhan are among those getting big government checks. Like they need the money, right?
Universities, both public and private, were bathed in federal grants, too — to the tune of $35 billion in 2016. An example in that category: Johns Hopkins University got $768 million for various research projects even though it rakes in almost $6 billion in annual revenues and has another $9 billion in assets. To quote the OpenTheBooks report, Johns Hopkins received a grant for nearly $30 million that "went toward strengthening the health system in Mozambique" and six separate grants totaling $5.2 million that "supported male circumcision in 14 African countries."
Look, I want kids in China to cross the street safely. I want Mozambique to have a strong health system. And I want real American farmers struggling to produce our food supply to get aid. But at a time when our national debt is crushing us, can't we forgo some of these wildly unnecessary payouts? I say yes.
The Open The Books website promises to reveal all federal spending in real time, state by state, so Americans can make up their minds about whether elected officials are playing politics with our tax dollars.
There's a lot of talk about draining the swamp in Washington, especially with the midterm elections coming up. I think these grants and subsides are a great place to start to pull the plug.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.