Politics & Policy

GOP Senator: U.S. Debt Could Be Paid Off — in 460 Years

Defense Department officials offered $283,500 to researchers who could monitor the nests of the California gnatcatcher, a tiny bird that the federal government has deemed “threatened” since 1993.

That’s one example of questionable spending recorded in “Federal Fumbles,” a chronicle of government waste assembled by Senator James Lankford (R., Okla.). “In what universe should DOD spend $283,500 to study the day-to-day life of a tiny bird?” Lankford’s report asks. “How is American national security strengthened by this study? DOD should be in the business of defense, not nature conservancy.”

The report continues a tradition established by Lankford’s predecessor, Tom Coburn, who produced annual “wastebooks” outlining hundreds of questionable federal expenses. Lankford records $900 billion in waste — $100 billion in government programs and $800 billion in regulations. All told, that money adds up to just a small fraction of the federal debt, he says.

“On our current pace, let’s say we are actually to put into place the budget we have and actually fulfill it,” he told reporters Monday afternoon. “If we had a $50 billion surplus in the eleventh year, if we did that, we would have to continue to do it every year for the next 460 years to pay off our debt.”

#share#The Defense Department’s gnatcatcher study is just one of example of the odd spending that has become a mainstay of the waste book reports. Lankford notes $374,000 spent researching the dating habits of seniors and over $2.6 million spent from 2011-2015 on a weight-loss program for truck drivers.

The Oklahoma freshman, who served on the House Budget Committee before graduating to the Senate, maintains that the debt crisis can be fixed. “This is what our office plans to work on in the days ahead,” he said. “This is not just us and what we’re trying to do. We’re encouraging every office to take this on as well. . . . Find your own list and look for the common ground and let’s try to get some of these things done.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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