Ryan, colleagues unveil new version of Golden Fleece award

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Gazette Staff and Associated Press
October 17, 2007

In his five terms in office, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville has seen his fair share of wasteful federal spending.

His favorite examples: a $50 million rainforest museum in Iowa and a $200-plus million “bridge to nowhere” proposed to link the Alaskan mainland with a sparsely populated island.

Ryan thinks wasteful spending can be prevented—or at least reduced—through the “power of embarrassment.”

That’s why Ryan and other Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Tuesday unveiled the “Budget Boondoggle Award.”

The award is their version of the late Sen. William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” award, which highlighted examples of government waste.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and today, we strive to imitate Sen. Proxmire,” Ryan said Tuesday in announcing the award.

The Janesville representative is the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. Proxmire served in the U.S. Senate from 1957 to 1989. The Democratic senator died in 2005 at age 90.

In an interview this morning, Ryan said he and other lawmakers pored through 12 appropriations bills and found examples of extravagant spending in each one.

“There’s a pattern of spending, a culture of spending, that needs to be addressed,” he said.

On Tuesday, the lawmakers wasted no time in criticizing federal spending.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $24 million on ice after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, then spent another $3.5 million to melt the unneeded ice, the lawmakers said. It was part of the $129 billion in Katrina relief aid provided by Congress.

Another example cited by the group was money allocated to bike paths and other “cosmetic projects” while more than 73,000 bridges in the United States are considered “structurally deficient.”

The award aims to put government agencies and bureaucrats on notice that they’re being watched, Ryan said.

It also sends a message to Congress about priorities.

“Our goal is to use the power of embarrassment to try to clean up government waste and get Congress to stop funding these kinds of boondoggles,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the “bridge to nowhere” project eventually was killed, and he’s not sure what happened with the rainforest museum. Both projects, he stressed, were proposed by Republicans.

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