Whenever conservative budget hawks in Washington, D.C., talk about the need to cut spending to reduce the federal deficit they inevitably turn their attention to programs that help the most vulnerable among us.
For example, the omnibus Farm bill passed by Congress this past February included $8.6 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. And in March, the Obama Administration, under pressure from Republicans to cut spending, requested $2.8 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That's a dramatic reduction from last year's appropriation of $3.4 billion, a figure that many believe is already too low. Advocates for LIHEAP, citing one of the coldest winters in years, are calling for the program to be funded at $4.7 billion for fiscal year 2015.
Instead of cutting the basic necessities of life for the neediest among us, there are plenty of other areas where the government can reduce spending. And they're not hard to find. The fact is, the budget is riddled with special earmarks, more commonly known as pork barrel projects that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
Here are just a few examples:
-- A Catfish Inspection Office begin developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (even though the U.S. food and Drug Administration has a similar inspection office) will cost roughly $15 million a year.
-- $65 million for Pacific Coast salmon restoration for states including Nevada.
-- $15 million for an 'incentive program' that directs the Department of Defense to overpay on contracts by an additional 5 percent if the contractor is a Native Hawaiian-owned company.
-- $600,000 for program at Mississippi State University to research how to grow trees faster for replanting after hurricanes.
-- $7.7 million increase for the Civil Air Program. CAP is a volunteer organization that provides aerospace education to young people, runs a junior cadet program, and assists when possible in providing emergency services. According to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., CAP is auxiliary and thus should not be funded given the need for the military to tighten its purse strings and fund programs that are a priority to our national defense, not auxiliary.
-- $375 million for Army, Navy and Air Force "alternative energy research" initiatives, such as the Department of the Navy's purchase of 450,000 gallons of alternative fuels for $12 million.
-- $90,000,000 for continued upgrade of the M1 Abrams tank to the M1A2SEP variant. The army is on record saying it has more than enough tanks, and wishes to delay the M1 upgrade program until 2017, saving taxpayers $3 billion, according to Citizens Against Government Waste. Since FY 1994, there have been 31 earmarks for the M1 Abrams tank program costing taxpayers $519.2 million.
-- $9,285,000 for Heritage Partnership Programs through the National Park Service. Since 2001, the Heritage Partnership Programs have received 48 earmarks worth a total of $28.7 million for a wide array of initiatives including park improvements, sports complexes, health centers, water quality monitoring, bike paths, sustainable agriculture, and agricultural tourism.
-- $5,000,000 for abstinence education. Since FY 2001, members of Congress have affixed 126 earmarks for abstinence education, costing taxpayers $8.2 million.
-- $321 million wasted by three federal agencies on duplicative information technology projects over the past several years, according to "Waste Book 2013" from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
-- $171.5 million in losses on loans to sugar producers who could not pay back the money they borrowed from the government.
-- $10.7 million for the Denali Commission, even after the agency's inspector general determined that it should be shut down.
-- $3 million for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study how Congress works.
-- $914,000 for the Popular Romance Project to promote romance novels.
-- $704,198 for gardening and landscaping services at the home of the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
-- $415,000 to promote U.S. wine in China, a communist country to which the U.S. owes $1.2 trillion.
-- $325,525 for a study that concluded wives should calm down quickly during marital spats.
No doubt those who advocate for these programs and spending initiatives would argue how important they are for their communities and their constituents, but not one single item on this list is more important that making sure every American has enough food to eat and doesn't freeze to death in the winter.