Coburn waste report lambasts numerous USDA initiatives, including $300,000 spent promoting caviar

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The United States Department of Agriculture spent $300,000 to promote caviar this year, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn detailed Tuesday with the release of his “Wastebook 2012.”

“Perhaps nothing demonstrates just how out of touch Washington is more than the $300,000 USDA is spending to tell Americans to eat caviar, one of the world’s most expensive delicacies, at a time when millions of Americans are struggling just to put the basics on the family dinner table,” Coburn writes in the introduction of the Wastebook, which outlines 100 examples of government waste, totaling more than $18 million. “It echoes back to the fabled proclamations of the callous royal who, when asked about the hungry and poor shortly before the French Revolution, replied ‘let them eat cake.’”

In February the USDA awarded Leo Ray, owner of Fish Processors of Idaho, a $300,000 value-added grant to create a website and flyers, as well as to attend trade shows to set up promotional booths.

“At $28.40 an ounce wholesale (it goes for as much as $100 retail),” the Fish Processors of Idaho has “brought in about $150,000 in revenue annually from caviar sales in the past six years,” Coburn’s report says, quoting Idaho’s Magic Valley Times-News. “If all goes according to plan, revenue could skyrocket to $1.5 million soon.”

Awarding grants to producers of luxury items like caviar is “just plain fishy,” the report states.

But Tobin Dixon, a business program specialist with USDA Rural Development, told the Times-News in February that the government’s goal is to help agriculture businesses get a reasonable start.

“Bottom line: It’s often difficult for a producer to open up a new market,” Dixon said. “So it’s a grant that sort of helps them over that hump.”

Coburn’s report, however, also highlights what it calls “questionable or illegal” expenditures related to the federal food stamp program. Some food stamp recipients spent government money on Starbucks coffee, alcohol and junk food, accounting for nearly $4.5 billion in waste, according to Coburn’s report.  (RELATED: Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle buys candy, junk food with food stamps)

The USDA also spent $49,447 to have Smokey Bear hot-air balloons at several festivals in the Southwest, as well as $49,990 in grants to the New York potato chip manufacturer that makes the North Fork chips, which celebrities Rachael Ray and Whoopi Goldberg have heartily endorsed, Coburn’s report states.

After adding those large sums to the $25,000 earmarked to promote watermelons and Alabama Watermelon Queen tour events, and to the $300,000 spent to help construct an agriculture and motorsports museum in Iowa,  Coburn’s report says most Americans want the answer to a very simple question: “Do our children have this money to spare?”

“This ‘let them eat caviar’ attitude in Washington is evident in countless instances, as the well-off are rewarded with the taxes paid by other hard-working Americans,” Coburn states in the report.

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Caroline May