Note to Members of Congress: Buy your own Donuts!

July 27, 2010

The buzz this week is about how members of the U.S. House are spending our federal tax dollars. $1,013,162,955 is the total amount of congressional House spending between June 2009 and March 2010.

Is anyone else outraged? While millions of Americans are losing their homes, and every day average Americans are forced to make painful decisions like whether they should buy food or medication, our elected officials are spending millions of our tax dollars on unnecessary purchases.

Each year the members of Congress are given a Member Representational Allowance, which ranges from $1.3 to $1.9 million.  Isn't that an excessive amount?! The current salary for a rank and file member of Congress is $174,000 a year.  The Speaker of the House earns $223,500, and minority leaders earn $193,400.  Members of Congress and staffers also have excellent pension plans and medical insurance.  From June 2009 to March 2010, taxpayers spent $334.9 million on their health insurance, $854 thousand on their life insurance, and $12.6 on their student loan repayments. Yes, repayment of student loans is another perk.

A total of $2.6 million was spent on food purchases for House members and their staff, with $604 thousand on bottled water alone.  Saipan and the national media have called Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan the hungriest guy in the House for spending the most on food of any House member.  He spent a total of $23,457. Out of the expenditure $5,127 was in Sablan's name, $3,000 was paid for food at the Hyatt Regency by his staff, and $3,000 was paid to DC caterer, Capitol Host.  However, what most of the papers aren't mentioning is that in total expenditures last year Congressman Sablan ranked among the three thriftiest of all House members.

Considering their generous salaries, members of Congress and their staffers should be able to afford to buy their own meals and any snacks or beverages that they want.   Should people like me, who have to budget and clip coupons every week to be able to afford food, have to pay for Minority Whip James Clyburn's $900 donut purchase? I say, no way! (By the way, donuts are truly unhealthy.  I guess the members figure that their top of the line health insurance, that few of us will ever see the likes of, will pay for any heart attacks or health issues.)

The U.S. House members spent $1.4 million a month on travel. This seems truly excessive!  Travel expenses obviously would depend on the distance from Washington, DC and the amount of trips made.

According to AOL:
Madeleine Bordallo, the delegate from Guam, put in for $127,368 on 33 separate travel reimbursements or charges. (She didn't take all the trips herself, as some were listed under staffers' names.) Her average reimbursement was $3,859; one reimbursement, possibly for multiple flights, cost $22,000. The flight to Guam we found on Expedia would take 27 hours and have two stops.
Is the average of 45 trips a year per member reasonable? I don't think so.  If these elected officials stayed in Washington, DC, perhaps more work could be accomplished.  Maybe if these "public servants" spent more time together as a body in DC, they could even learn to get along for the sake of our country, instead of blocking essential legislation to push their own partisan agendas or those of special interest groups who fund their campaigns.

As it is now, because of traveling back and forth to their districts, legislators work 3 days a week in Washington, with Mondays and Fridays counted as "travel days." This year the House will be in session approximately 140 days with 225 days off.   (Check out the House calendar.)

The long recesses are allegedly scheduled so that congressional members can spend time meeting with constituents in their districts and to work on congressional concerns back home.  However, members are free to do whatever they desire during these recesses, including staying in Washington, DC, vacationing, or taking junkets.  I say limit the trips that taxpayers cover to 15 a year, per member. That's one per month with three extras thrown in.  Let the members reach into their own pockets if they want to pay for extra travel.

I cannot even remember a year when public education has been properly funded, and yet somehow there is enough money in the federal budget for things like donuts and barbecue for House members. While members of Congress receive unnecessarily lavish budgets, underpaid educators have to use our own money to pay for needed items for our students because Congress routinely under funds public education  and then expects teachers to work magic with ridiculous inadequate budgets.

As an educator, each year I typically get one ream of paper per quarter, a box of staples, a roll of tape and a couple of pens and pencils.  Teachers at our school can only print a limited number of copies per semester.  House members spent $7.5 million on office supplies and $22.6 million on "franked" (postage-fee) mail.  If I want quality instructional and reference materials, books, equipment, supplies or field trip money for my students, I have to write grants.  The House members freely spent $1.2 million on news, resource materials, and research in 9 months.  My school computer and software is so out of date that I have to use my home computer to download attachments. House members spent $18 million on computer hardware and $5.3 million on software. While these congressional members certainly don't skimp on their own "essentials," they think nothing of chopping public education funds leaving American's public school children lacking essential instructional materials, resources, equipment, and supplies.  Budgets have been slashed so much that courses like music and art have disappeared.

I would like to see every member of Congress take three days every year from one of their many recesses, or as the House calls them, "district work periods", and spend them with a teacher in a classroom in a public school.  Then, assuming there are still more than a few members with a conscience, let's see if public schools would be adequately funded.  After all, think how many computers or books public schools could purchase with the $2.6 million House food bill.

The Sunlight Foundation has a full breakdown of each member's expenditures if you have time and stomach to pour through their lists.


Saipan Writer said...

I'm guessing that Kilili isn't buying donuts or food for himself. He's buying for the constituents and others who attend his meetings, forums, visit his office, etc. I'm guessing it isn't always "donuts" either but that is just an easy way to say rolls and other breakfast-y items. At events here, he's offered fresh fruit, empanadas, sushi, etc.

It's good you put his expenditure on food in perspective by pointing out that Kilili is still one of the thriftiest of US Congressmen.

Anonymous said...

I don't get too excited about our nonvoting delegate's spending a lot of U.S. taxpayer dollars on food.

Gregorio seems to be doing a respectable job representing us and it appears that he is pretty conservative on expenditures other than food.

I wonder what our former resident representatives to the United States and their staffs spent on food, drinks and travels to attend such important functions as high school graduations or graduations from basic training. Now that was really a waste of CNMI funds

Anonymous said...

I am no fan of Kilili. But the local congressmen are all to happy to have him be the distraction. Who is our Sunlight Foundation for those jokers on the Hill?

Consultants. Community Workers. Trips for meetings. Useless Resolutions. No budgets. Denial of the lack of money for government. "Representin' constituents" by what-- bushcutting the neighborhood? How about this: Gentlemen we have 50% less money than we did 5 years ago. We cut our expenses and salaries by 50% until we either get that money back by helping our people, or we slash everyone's budget by 505 and stick to it. And include those overpaid people in the judiciary who masquerade as judges except for Ken Govendo.

Wendy said...

Well, I guess my point was missed here. The point I was trying make is NO member of the U.S. Congress should be handed over $1 million a year of U.S. taxpayer money to spend on food, travel, resource material, office supplies. furniture and equipment. It is a waste of money, especially considering this body can never adequately fund public schools. Their budgets (all of them) should be cut significantly. Prioritize!

While the media talked about Congressman Sablan, most stories neglected the fact that he spent the least money in total! He spent hardly anything compared to other members, which is significant because for him to travel to his district is extremely costly.