Thursday, June 04, 2009

If it Appears Your Member of Congress is "Out of Touch"...

It seems that our Members of Congress are "out of touch," when it comes to their constituents needs. While we are talking salary cuts and job losses, they are giving themselves pay raises. While the government is talking about making it impossible for us to afford private health insurance (in an effort to ration health care through socialized medicine) as they tax and regulate insurance policies out of existence, they have the finest health insurance in the world.

Members of the US House and Senate are each given an expense account that allows them to make purchases and leases that are designed to help them represent their constituents more effectively. The Wall Street Journal reports that "House members get a government expense allowance of $1.3 million to $1.9 million a year. Senators get $2.9 million to $4.5 million. The disparity is based on several factors, with lawmakers whose home states are far from Washington, for example, typically receiving more to cover their higher travel expenses." Yes, that is per person.

So where do these millions of dollars go? Here are a few examples cited by the Journal:

  • Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) spent $24,730 in taxpayer money last year to lease a 2008 luxury Lexus hybrid sedan.

  • Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) spent $1,435 on a digital camera.

  • Democrat Eni Faleomavaega, the House delegate from American Samoa, purchased two 46-inch Sony TVs.

  • Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) spent $84,000 worth on personalized calendars, printed by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, for his constituents. One could argue that this Congressman used taxpayer dollars towards his reelection efforts, since it is simply promotional material. He was not available to the Journal for comment.

  • Rep. Rodney Alexander (D-LA) paid $20,000 for a 2009 lease on a Toyota Highlander, a hybrid SUV.

  • Rahm Emanuel (D-IL and now President Obama's Chief of Staff) showed such expenditures included printing, recording a $33,000 printing expense in the fourth quarter of 2008.

  • Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) spent $2,793 on a Panasonic Toughbook laptop, which is marketed to the military, in September of 2008. Yes, this is the same Jefferson who was implicated in a scandal that included $90,000 found in a freezer in his office (bringing new meaning to "cold, hard, cash").

These accounts are often plagued with vague citations and are hard to monitor. Furthermore, there is an expiration date on these dollars. If they are not spent in a certain time frame, the dollars don't carry on the next year, but start with a new budget. Because of this, many found these expenditures all the more offensive in the last quarter of 2008. As many Americans were trying to buckle down and prepare for an economic storm, Members of Congress and their staff were enjoying taxpayer dollars.

The Wall Street Journal points out that "The review showed that the increased year-end spending went not only toward equipment but also to fund year-end 'bonuses' to aides. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to an earlier Journal analysis. Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000." It also went on to point out that "The records show that some lawmakers spent heavily in the final months of the year to draw down allowances before the end of December -- a time when U.S. households were paring their budgets and lawmakers were criticizing Detroit auto executives for taking private aircraft to Washington to plead their case for taxpayer funding."

There is talk about making these records available online and in more detail for both the House and the Senate so taxpayers can better keep track of the expenditures of their elected officials. That, and reconsidering how much they have available to spend, are reforms long over due.

Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business, the longest running show on AM 650 (M-F at 11 am) in Houston, Texas and on AOL Radio. Eric Bolling of Fox News and Fox Business says that Price’s Blog “is very influential and moves the blogosphere.” Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal calls Price the “best business talk show host in the country.” Find out why and visit his blog at www.BizPlusBlog.com and his show site at www.PriceofBusiness.com. You can also find Price on Strategy Room at FoxNews.com.

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