Thursday, April 30, 2015

Congressional Allowances

Your mom or dad might have given you an allowance for mowing the yard, taking out the trash, cleaning your room or washing the dishes. What do members of Congress do to EARN their allowances?

There is very little a member of Congress has to pay for out of their annual $174,000 salaries. Everything — from office space, to travel expenses, to haircuts — is paid for. They get far more perks than someone on welfare or food stamps does — and far more benefits than a dues-paying union member (who usually actually works 40 hours a week throughout most of the year.)

But still, one member of Congress had complained about not having enough to live on. Another member of Congress couldn't afford to pay back child support. Another felt a need to sell drugs. The list goes on and on and on. These people are OVER-paid and are still living beyond their means, but claim it's everybody else that's making $28,000 a year (the median wage) who are the biggest problem.

And over half these characters in Congress are millionaires, so they aren't raking in those huge salaries based on any patriotic duty to God and country. But their congressional salaries are only the tip of the iceberg. There's also their huge "allowances".

There is a document at the U.S. Treasury called “2010 Detail of Appropriations, Outlays, and Balances". It can be found from this page > which lists it here with several PDF files. According to the Christian Science Monitor (for the year 2010) Senators and their staffers cost taxpayers a grand total of $815.3 million (and that's above and beyond their regular salaries of $174,000 a year). Almost a billion dollars in non-salary expenses for the "maintenance" of 100 men and women in the U.S. Senate — which doesn't even include the cost 435 Representatives in the House.

Haircuts, gym memberships and gift shop baubles are just a few of the things their annual incomes apparently don't cover (along with free healthcare and retirement funding).

In 2010 these absurdities (and many others) added up to over $8.1 million per Senator (not including their salaries, healthcare and retirements). And this is before we've even taken a peak at the House of Representatives' expenditures — let alone those of the White House.

That year at the Reality Blog they listed a few expenditures under "Senate Appropriations":

Did you know that each year the Treasury allots a certain amount of taxpayer money to go to the “Senate Hair Care Revolving Fund”? But even more importantly, this “revolving fund” has a balance, which is appropriated solely for this Senatorial hair care. That fund balance, which is invested and gains each year, is $261,117. That represents a gain for this fund over fiscal year 2009 of about $36,000.

That was for 2010. For 2014 it had a balance of $454,204 — and under "Public Enterprise Funds" there's also:

  • Senate Restaurant Revolving Fund
  • Senate Health Revolving Fund Promotion Revolving Fund
  • Senate Gift Shop Revolving Fund
  • Senate Photographic Studio Revolving Fund

The current report for 2014 Appropriations, Outlays, and Balances is here. (Someone should dig a little dipper, and give these documents a lot more scrutiny.)

The Cost of Housing the House

That same year (2010) Politifact reported that the rent on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's downtown San Francisco district office was $18,736 per month — more than quadruple the rent she paid for her previous district office. At that time it was nearly double the next-highest rental paid by another member of the House — which at $10,600, had then belonged to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in Manhattan.

It was noted that Pelosi's rent was being paid back to the federal government, which owns the building, and that Pelosi pays the same cost per square foot as any other federal agency that is a tenant of the federal building where her office is located.

Here is the latest House's quarterly Statement of Disbursements online — 862 pages in PDF here. (I'm not an accountant, but someone should dig a little dipper, and give these documents a lot more scrutiny too. Especially with all the talk about "out of control spending", "big government", "soaring deficits", "runaway debt", "being on the government dole", etc.)

The expense for district office rent is paid out of set amount allotted to members called the Members' Representational Allowances (which typically range from about $1.4 million to $1.7 million for each office). Out of this account, members pay for their staff, travel, office rent, office art, flowers, bottles of water etc.

The amount of the allowance varies based on factors such as the distance of a member's district to D.C. and the relative cost of office space in the member's home district. (Pelosi's allowance was higher due to the travel distance to California and the high rents charged in San Francisco. In addition, because of the additional responsibilities, as then-Speaker of the House, she received a higher allowance. Now John Boehner does.)

Members can decide for themselves how to spend their allowances, so if one decides to prioritize spending on office space, it doesn't cost taxpayers any more, they simply had less to spend on other things. And, members can give back the unused part of their allowance — but in practice, very few ever do. They simply find other ways to spend it.

* It's hard to afford a haircut when you are a millionaire who "earns" $175,000 a year plus benefits. Besides their local offices, Reps and Senators maintain an office in D.C. as well. Maybe their food, drinks, lodging and travel expenses to the annual White House Correspondents Dinner are paid for by the taxpayers as well.


  1. If the ruling members of China, India, Japan (or elsewhere) were making double (or triple) what members of the American Congress earn, that has no bearing on this post.

  2. Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo has dipped into her campaign fund to buy more than $2,000 in gifts from swank stores such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

    Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) has dropped nearly $3,400 in campaign cash servicing his BMW in Alexandria, Virginia.

    Rep. Robert Brady (D-Philadelphia) shells out more than $10,000 every year at Capital Grille, buying Christmas gifts for campaign aides.

    House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has gone on a shopping spree at Vineyard Vines, the Connecticut-based preppy clothing company — to the tune of $12,295 in the past five months.

    Disgraced former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) resigned after a firestorm of criticism over his use of campaign dollars to underwrite a lavish lifestyle, among other alleged misdeeds.

    But the truth is, while Schock was by all accounts an extreme case, he is far from the exception. It fact, elected officials routinely tap their campaign accounts to pay for things that appear to have little to do with seeking another term in Congress, according to a POLITICO review of campaign documents.

  3. Congressional Guns

    On Jan. 29 a member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s security detail left his Glock and magazine stuffed in the toilet seat cover holder of a Capitol Visitor Center bathroom stall. A CVC worker found the gun, according to a source familiar with the incident.

    There were two other disturbing instances when Capitol Police left loaded firearms in problematic places:

    A 7- or 8-year-old child visiting the Capitol with his parents found a loaded Glock lost by a dignitary protection officer, according to the source. A member of the security detail for John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had allegedly left a firearm in the bathroom of the Speaker’s Suite on March 24.

    Another Glock was found the night of April 16 by a janitor cleaning the Capitol Police headquarters building on D Street NE. The weapon was left in plain sight, sparking additional concern about the department charged with protecting one of the world’s most important and frequently visited complexes.