Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nice Work If You Can Get It — Capitol Style

Via the Sun Sentinel:

Job losses, home foreclosures and the worst economy in decades have forced many Americans to cut back or do without.

But not members of Congress, who voted themselves a 5 percent increase in their own budgets for staff salaries, office expenses and perks last year.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Democrat, paid two staffers about $160,000 apiece, and one of them was his longtime girlfriend.

When Corrine Brown, a Democrat from North Florida, traveled on Congressional business, she used a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car and an SUV at a cost of nearly $8,000.

And Tom Rooney, a House Republican from the Treasure Coast, spent about $2,500 to maintain an aquarium in his office.

To government watchdogs monitoring how our tax dollars are spent, the expenditures suggest some members of Congress are out of touch with the financial hardships that many of their constituents are facing.

“Shame on our Congress men and women to be so insensitive to the plight of Floridians and Americans who can barely make ends meet,” said Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch. “It’s absolutely the wrong message at the wrong time.”

Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va., said lawmakers may not understand why “people could be upset over a few thousand dollars out of a budget of trillions, but it shouldn’t surprise them.”

“It is a very important symbol of the federal government’s overall behavior to watch the Ps and Qs on office expenditures,” Sepp said. “It’s one of the few costs of government that people can relate to directly.”

And it adds up to more than $1 billion a year.

I don’t begrudge Congress for hiring good staff and paying them what they’re worth, especially compared to what someone might make in the private sector for doing the same job. But when people are losing their jobs and those who still have them are facing cutbacks — including those who work in the public sector — it’s pretty damn tone-deaf.