Sequester Misfire: Eric Cantor’s World of Warcraft Nonsense

In search of wasteful government spending, Eric Cantor sets his pants on fire. John Avlon reports.

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Eric Cantor fired off a press release last week titled Mr. President, Spending is Clearly the Problem in Washington, arguing against a grand-bargain solution to sequestration in favor of an all domestic-spending-cuts approach and offering an apparently useful list of waste, fraud, abuse and duplication as prime candidates for the chopping block.

Much of the Majority Leader’s list, though, was made up of the kind of evidently no-brainer cuts that have bumper-sticker appeal but urban legend-esque documentation. But for a congressional office dedicated to the idea that wasteful government spending abounds, the seven targets listed were thin gruel, including an IRS TV studio that costs $4 million a year to operate; a $47,000 Veterans Affairs expenditure on a “cigarette smoking machine” and this:

Pay to Play Videogames: The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play World of Warcraft to study the impact it had on their brains.

If true, this is good stuff – exactly the kind of idiotic expense that makes citizens slap their foreheads in frustration. Cantor tweeted his World of Warcraft find far and wide and 8 congressmen quickly pressed retweet.

But there’s just one problem: it ain’t true.

The good folks over at took a look and gave Cantor a “Pants-on-Fire” rating for the claim, finding instead that a 2009 grant was given to fund studies looking at how to improve seniors' cognitive abilities and World of Warcraft was never involved.

Owen Good, editor of gaming site Kokatu, wrote a blistering slam of the House majority leader’s report, explaining the intricacies in more detail.

“The study in question cost $5,000 and that was funded entirely by my alma mater, North Carolina State University, whose Gains Through Gaming Lab we've written about before. In fact, we wrote about this same project, and others at the lab… Of the $1.2 million in funding, only a small fraction goes toward compensating study participants, who take four three-hour cognition tests spread out over a year, and play Boom Blox for a total of 15 hours over two weeks.”

But why let facts get in the way of a good talk-radio outrage story? After all, as Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

But if the core of the GOP congressional approach is closing the deficit solely through wasteful domestic cuts—of which there should be many worthwhile candidates—the question is why they should have to lie to make their point. There should a telephone book full of examples—so why stretch the truth? It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether this is all a political game in the first place. After all, the House GOP did a bang-up job of controlling spending when they had unified control of Washington, just a decade ago. I even recall then-majority leader Tom DeLay saying that there was no fat left to cut in the federal budget.