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IT’S TIME TO DUMP THE TEA TASTERS

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Tax-supported slurping just isn't the federal government's cup of tea, but somehow tea time continues to be observed daily at taxpayers' expense.

Each year the Food and Drug Administration pays $200,000 to keep an office with 3.9 full-time employees - including three full-time tea tasters - to ensure that Americans drink only teas "of purity and wholesomeness."There is also a seven-member U.S. Board of Tea, but they no longer are paid a $50 per diem and travel expenses, which until the late 1980s totaled about $8,000.

But, really, does America need tea tasters? Various Congresses and administrations dating back to the Nixon era have decided it does not, but the program just won't go away. This year, in another effort to eliminate tea slurping from the national bureaucracy, the Senate has added an amendment to the spending bill that repeals the Tea Importation Act of 1897.

If it happens, it may be the biggest accomplishment of this budget-cutting Republican Congress. Not exactly the Boston Tea Party, but historic, nevertheless.

Compared to debates over cuts to billion-dollar government programs, the effort to wipe out the tenacious tea-import office may seem like a tempest in a teapot. But it's representative of many government programs that stick like a wet sugar cube to the monster bureaucracy.

If Republicans can rid America of the tea tasters, by Jove, maybe there's hope for a balanced budget - some day.