Friday, December 19th, 2014

Wacky spending, even under the sequester?

There's a creepy dark side to this cute little duck! (iStock photo)
There's a creepy dark side to this cute little duck! (iStock photo)

Are some things in Washington sequester-proof?


We’re not talking about Social Security checks or military pay, which were specifically exempt from the budget plan that otherwise takes a blunt cleaver to government spending.


We’re talking about the more frivolous stuff, the projects one might think would drop down a few notches on the "vital spending" list.


Weeks into the sequester no one thought would happen, claims are flying about what’s being funded (food on Mars) in light of what’s not (White House tours).


Here’s PolitiFact’s roundup:


A menu for 'when we colonize Mars': Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made fun of a number of scientific research projects funded by the federal government, suggesting that they were a waste of taxpayer money. He described, for example, a Hawaiian study "to develop a menu for when we colonize Mars." "Colonize" was an exaggeration, but he was generally right — the project is a broader look at how astronauts would eat on the planet. We rated his claim Mostly True.


ObamaPhones: U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican, said Obama’s "spending $2.2 billion to give away 'ObamaPhones.' " That's about how much the federal government spent in 2012 for a program called Lifeline, which helps low-income citizens pay for telephone service. But it's not correct to attribute it to Obama. Meanwhile, the money comes from phone fees, so it wouldn’t be possible to prevent other cuts by halting the phone program. We rated his statement Mostly False.


Air Force fantasy football league: Headlines across the blogosphere and shared via social media suggested the Air Force wanted taxpayers to fund a fantasy football league. But the evidence was a "request for information," not a final decision to fund anything. Meanwhile, any money at stake wouldn’t have come from taxpayers, but "nonappropriated funds" generated by Air Force clubs and other activities designed to boost morale. We rated the claim False.


Seniors and World of Warcraft: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the federal government spent $1.2 million "paying seniors to play World of Warcraft," a popular fantasy game. His facts are all messed up, though. He’s referring to a federal grant for a study to determine whether computer games can slow mental decline in the elderly. But the grant application never mentioned WoW and participants in the federally funded study did not play that game. Some in a small pilot study did. Cantor’s statement ridiculously suggested that Washington is sponsoring a geriatric gaming club. We rated his claim Pants on Fire.


Duck penis research: Finally, we looked into some tweets claiming the government funded a study examining duck penis length. Actually, the study at issue is a scientific dive into the unique sexual behaviors of ducks and the evolutionary consequences. It received almost $400,000 from the National Science Foundation, through the stimulus package. It’s dubious to tie the sequester -- which curbs future spending -- to a nearly four-year-old project. But otherwise the duck sex claim holds up. The rating: Mostly True.