Pockets Full of Perks
Hefty salaries not enough for many U.S. Congressmen
CONGRESSMEN WHO LIVE FRUGALLY are an endangered species. There is always plenty of money for traveling the world in high style while living a life of luxury and their pockets bulge.
The $165,200 salary is just the beginning. Only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) returns an unused portion of his expense money to the federal treasury.
Perks range from the glamorous to the mundane. They have free parking at Washington Reagan National Airport—just steps from their favorite terminal. The average Joe takes the subway or a cab to the airport.
Parking even at the far-off spaces served by shuttle buses costs more than a cab unless you take a cab for many miles to fly out of Washington. Average Joe has to reserve just one flight and be there two hours in advance and may still be bumped because airlines overbook. Your congressman can book three flights and take the one that best suits his convenience.
He doesn’t have to bother canceling the other two reservations, although he has a highly paid staff to handle such petty details for him. If he arrives seconds before take-off, average Joe gets bumped and the congressman gets seated.
Congress gives itself the finest medical care, financed by taxpayers. When the congressman has a bellyache (instead of giving one to taxpayers) he goes to Walter Reed for the finest care available. He enjoys huge retirement benefits in addition to Social Security—if he hangs around long enough, he can get a $200,000 pension.
But don’t expect him to struggle living within his $165,200 salary—there’s money everywhere. He can transfer $75,000 from his allotment for “office staff ” to “expenses.” Despite allegedly new House “travel restrictions” drawn up to calm voter outrage, lawmakers accepted free trips worth nearly $1.9 million in the first eight months of 2007—more than all of 2006, records show. U.S. ambassadors abroad are provided funds to entertain visiting congressmen.
“There’s a realization that these trips and meals are getting extra scrutiny,” Meredith McGehee of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told USA Today.
“That will last for awhile, but we know it won’t last forever. The ethos of politics is, ‘what can we get away with?’”
To duck limitations on lobbyists currying favor with congressmen by financing extended luxury trips, nonprofit groups with ties to lobbyists have stepped in. The Leaders Project paid $1,993 to send Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) to an event in Florida on U.S.-India relations. The group’s founder is William Cohen, a former Defense secretary whose lobbying firm represents Defense contractors. The Club for Growth spent $32,242 to bring 10 GOP lawmakers to its convention in Florida that included a four-hour cruise on a 170-foot yacht.
All this fun kept congressmen too busy to get their work done on time, which is why your tax refund check will be late this year. Congress is going to put a “patch” on the alternative minimum tax so it does not reach down and punish the middle class when it was intended to assure that the rich will pay at least something.
But they left for their Thanksgiving recess without acting. Congress will take up the issue on its return in December. But the IRS said it would take 10 weeks to readjust its computers to account for the changes. So average Joe will wait more than two months longer to get his refund check.
(Issue #49-50, December 3 & 10, 2007)