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While Trillions In Deficits Loom, Ernst Proposes Trimming Federal Mascots And Other PR

Wasteful items cited by Ernst include more than $600,000 on coloring books, $60,000 on key chains, $33,000 on snuggies, and $17,000 on koozies.


Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst unveiled new legislation this week as part of her “squeal” campaign to reduce wasteful government spending in Washington.

The “Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act,” or “SWAG Act,” would block the federal government from creating “mascots” to market an agency, program, or agenda unless the mascot was authorized by congressional statute such as the popular characters “Smokey Bear” or “Woodsy Owl” used by the U.S. Forest Service.

“As an Iowa State Cyclone fan, I’ll be the first to say that mascots can be fun. But there is no justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money on mascots and millions more on swag,” Ernst said in a statement announcing the legislation. “These costs come at the expense of real national priorities… It’s time to bag the swag.”

The federal government currently spends approximately $1.4 billion on public relations and advertising every year, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Federal agencies have been caught spending more than $250,000 to design costumes for “mascots” in particular.

The Iowa senator’s bill forbids federal agencies from buying and distributing other “swag” items such as buttons and keychains. Wasteful items cited by Ernst announcing the legislation include more than $600,000 on coloring books, $60,000 on key chains, $33,000 on snuggies, $17,000 on koozies, and $16,000 on fidget spinners.

While wasteful spending of course needs to be reduced, the real drivers of the nation’s massive budget deficits and nearing entitlement disaster are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Eliminating all government waste won’t get anywhere near to solving these huge program’s fiscal insolvency.

Ernst’s bill would also mandate the public reporting of agency expenses on public relations and advertising and would prohibit such activities that are for “purely propaganda purposes” with exceptions for military recruitment and functions spelled out by statute. Propaganda is not limited to junk toys and fictional characters but includes other advertising efforts found to have no substantive value.

In 2013, the State Department revealed that it spent $630,000 on purchasing fake Facebook followers to expand its outreach on the social media network. This year, the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom sent social media influencers on an all-expenses-paid two-week trip abroad to the sites of where popular TV shows were filmed to “promote American values.”

Since her election to the Senate in 2014, Ernst has made cutting Washington spending a focus, introducing a series of bills this year aimed at draining government waste.

In September, Ernst proposed legislation seeking to cut waste in the Pentagon that would allow the Department of Defense to shut down and consolidate its warehouse and storage centers to cut costs, a measure the Government Accountability Office estimates could save more than $500 million in taxpayer dollars. Ernst has also pushed legislation that would cap agency spending in the final two months of the fiscal year to disincentivize agencies from blowing the rest of their budgets before the end of the cycle to avoid budget cuts, a practice known as “use-it-or-lose-it spending.”

Ernst’s crusade to curb wasteful Washington spending comes as the United States sees record-high debt and deficits. The U.S. Treasury Department announced last week that the federal deficit reached nearly $1 trillion in the 2019 fiscal year, a number that the Congressional Budget Office expects the federal government to exceed next year.

While reducing reckless spending might slightly help the nation’s finances, Congress must address entitlements if it hopes to fend off the inevitable crisis facing the country saddled with nearly a $23 trillion national debt and many multiple times that number in unfunded liabilities.

Spending on entitlements show no signs of slowing down and lawmakers have shown little genuine interest in solving the problem. Entitlement spending soared from the 2018 fiscal year as Democrats on the presidential campaign trail tout prohibitively expensive new programs that would only deepen the crisis.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the federal government surpassed the $1 trillion-dollar spending mark on the Social Security program this year with a 5.7 percent increase from 2018. The Medicare program saw a 10.6 percent hike from $589 billion spent on the program in 2018 to $651 billion spent in 2019. Ernst’s proposed cuts would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cuts needed to truly balance the federal budget.