This week the Senate passed an almost $1 trillion Farm Bill, putting it in the same league as the President’s health care law that clocked in at around half-a-billion dollars and has now climbed to over a trillion. Experts who did the real math on the new Shallow Loss insurance program say we can expect the bill’s costs to grow even more.
Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) RAISE Act was among the many, many amendments to the Farm Bill. What should have been a no-brainer, allowing employers to give individual employees merit-based pay raises and bonuses above the minimum payment stipulated in their union contract, failed 45-54. Republican Senators Murkowski (AK) and Kirk (IL) crossed the aisle to join their Democratic colleagues in taking money away from hard-working Americans.
There were many other worthwhile amendments that would have saved taxpayers money and cut waste that also failed on the Senate Floor. The Market Access Program was among the more egregious wastes that the Senate endorsed. Sen. Coburn (R-OK) proposed cutting the program by only twenty percent, down from its current $200 million/year, but Senators votes 69-30 to continue subsidizing the overseas advertising of major private corporations like Welch’s, Sunkist, and Blue Diamond.
It would be hard to say that this was a stellar week for taxpayers, or our growing debt.
Still, there was one good amendment in particular that passed with broad bipartisan support. For one beautiful moment, Senators came together than agreed that though it is totally appropriate for your tax dollars to fund wine tastings and dog glitter promotions, at least you shouldn’t have to buy the Republicans OR Democrats any more confetti and balloons for their party conventions every four years. The amendment passed 95-4,with only Senators Boxer (D-CA), Landreiu (D-LA), Mikulski (D-MD), and Rockefeller (D-WV) voting against.
Sen. Coburn’s (R-OK) convention funding amendment (#2214) prohibits the use of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (that little box you can check to donate a few bucks at the end of your income tax return) for political party conventions in elections occurring after 2012. As an added bonus, political parties are more than welcome to return the millions earmarked for the 2012 conventions to the Treasury to be used for deficit reduction.
Democrats and Republicans, alike, have been appalled at the recent revelation of hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on a Las Vegas convention for GSA employees, but that is small potatoes compared to the $18.2 million dollars each party received from the Treasury for the 2012 conventions (on top of the $50 million/convention allotted by Congress for security). That’s up almost $2 million from the $16.8 million each received for the 2008 conventions, and it is all a very far cry from the $4 million each for conventions established in the 1970s. Obviously, the “cost of living adjustments” have been very generous.
While conventions used to serve as the nominating vehicle for political parties, these days they are little more than a speech and bunting filled formality. Or as Sen. Coburn (R-OK) put it, "We're borrowing money from the Chinese to fund a 'Hallelujah Party' in both Tampa and Charlotte this year, each one of them getting $18.4 million. It's time that kind of nonsense stops,"
So if taxpayers aren’t funding an essential function of our democratic process, what are we paying for?
Democrats spent $39,000 for a teleprompter, $140,000 for the podium, $18,000 for “gifts/trinkets” and $3,320 for “makeup artist consultant” at their 2008 convention, according to government records. Among expenditures by Republicans in 2008 were $6,000 worth of flowers, $9,000 for “rally signs”, $3,500 for “promotional hats,” $24,000 for flags and $88,000 for badges.
And the Los Angeles Times lists:
The bill for 2008's conventions, which topped $14 million for Democrats and $12 million for Republicans, includes some interesting items, such as $5,630 for ties and scarves and $947 for gavels at the Republican convention, and $49,122 for photography at the Democratic convention.
For anyone worried that Republicans might be forced to reuse a gavel in future years, or that the 2016 Democratic convention might be more Greek crisis than Greek temple, the conventions’ host committees have proven to be more than able to raise the funds necessary to foot the bill for these giant parties. In 2008, the Denver host committee raised $62.9 million and the Minneapolis host committee raised $65.3 million for their conventions.
Though it is voluntary to have $3 of your tax dollars siphoned into the Presidential Election Campaign Fund each year, diverting millions to pay for what are basically huge political ads as our debt sky-rockets is hardly a responsible use of funds, especially when the bills are more than adequately paid for by private donations.
Senator Coburn (R-OK) summed up the rare win for taxpayers this way:
“Fortunately, the Senate said the ‘party is over’ when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by taxpayers. In light of today’s overwhelming vote, I would again call on both the RNC and DNC to immediately return taxpayer funds for this year’s convention parties. In these tough times, there is no justification for spending public funds on booze, balloons and confetti when both parties are awash in campaign donations.”