A Justice Department inspector general audit released last week has generated a lot of buzz on Capitol Hill over the suggestion that the agency has been spending too much on food at taxpayer-funded conferences. Some have interpreted the report to mean that DoJ spent as much as $16 per muffin at one event — which is pure fiction.
But to hear Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) tell the tale, this is the worst example of extravagant “elitist” spending in government since Marie Antoinette declared, “Let them eat cake!” The Iowa conservative even said yesterday that heads should roll over the incident:
Sen. Chuck Grassley said Thursday unless “heads roll” at the Department of Justice following revelations of extravagant spending on conferences that included $16 muffins, the scandal will not change the way government agencies use taxpayer money.
The Iowa Republican told CNN’s “American Morning” that President Barack Obama should ax the people responsible for the excessive spending on food and beverages at the department’s conferences uncovered by an audit earlier this week.
“Unless people are fired, and heads roll, you never get changes made,” Grassley said.
As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones explained yesterday, the $16 muffin charge is a myth. After plowing through the invoice for the event it’s obvious that “someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget. The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided.” As Drum notes, this sort of exchange happens all the time, and makes it seem on paper like the DoJ spent $16 per item. But “did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins? Of course not.”
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has already responded quickly to allegations of waste by ordering that agencies review spending at taxpayer-funded conferences. According to Politico, Vice President Joe Biden said a deputy secretary or equivalent chief operating officer at each agency will have to approve conference-related expenses during the review period.
But none of that is likely to satisfy Grassley, who seems determined to keep the $16 muffin myth alive because it’s a catchy, if completely false, story.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) joined in the muffin-bashing today on the House floor. After regaling everyone with his own rendition of “Do you know the muffin man?” Poe actually held up a muffin to illustrate his outrage. “Maybe they’re shipped in from a special bakery in France with some secret ingredient,” he commented before insisting that the government needs to act to keep the muffin man from “rolling in the dough.” Watch it: