Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hey! Where's my money?

I sent the following letter to my congressmen. Tell me what you think.

Dear Senator,
I’ve been thinking a lot about how difficult these times and circumstances are for everyone I know. My family has had to make some drastic changes to provide for ourselves—my husband and I are 30, returning to school because we fear agriculture can’t support us anymore, so we are living on student loans to provide for our kids. As I thought about how we have had to scale back, and how our local religious leaders have asked us all to scale back and be provident, I wondered what you are doing in Washington to be more provident with our hard-earned taxes. I’ve done a little googling, and created the following list of perks Congressmen receive. I realize that not all the information on the Internet is entirely accurate, so I hoped you could look over the list and answer two questions:
· How accurate is this list of perks?
· What are you personally doing to cut spending?
Free parking: Not only do members of Congress receive parking on Capitol Hill, but they also receive free (prime) private parking spots at the two nearby airport, Reagan National and Dulles airport.
Perks from Lobbyists: Despite a slew of ethics regulations regarding gifts from lobbyists, Members of Congress are still able to use their lobbyist ties to get into events that regular people simply do not have access to. For example, if a Member of Congress wanted a prime ticket to a sold-out event, he could still get that ticket from lobbyists he’s close with, as long as the face value of the ticket is reimbursed by the Member. However, this money doesn’t have to come from the Member’s pocket, but instead can come from the usually deep campaign account, which usually contains money from lobbyists and their associated PACs.
Days Off: While most Americans get one day off for Memorial Day and sometimes Presidents Day, members of Congress get the entire week off. However, Congress doesn’t like to call these vacation days, but instead call them “District Work Periods,” even though there is nothing requiring them to be in their district during those times. Congress also gets a number of additional recesses, some lasting as long as a month.
Office Costs: $2 million to $4 million a year for office administration and staff expenses. There is a furniture expense account, subsidized mass mailings to constituents (known as the franking privilege) and free income tax-return preparation assistance. In addition to all that, members also receive a special tax deduction for maintaining a second residence, and yet more, there are the numerous foreign trips (spouses included) often to exotic places hosted by nonprofit groups. House members, but not senators, can also keep frequent flier miles they rack up on official travel and use them for personal trips later.
Other Perks: What's more, members have exclusive use of the Congressional Research Service to do their legwork. There is free use of broadcast taping studios, free reserved parking at the office and at Washington-area airports and a free member-only gym and pool, expedited passport services and of course the well-appointed and subsidized members' dining rooms.
I haven’t mentioned anything about salaries, because I realize you give of your time and need to be compensated. I also realize that some things, like travel, are difficult to accommodate, and probably need to be compensated as well. What I hope, is that when you fly home to work in your district, you fly coach like the rest of us. I hope you understand that the money I do earn, I’ve worked very hard for. I belong to a church to which I voluntarily give 10% of my income. They have said of those funds that they hold them sacred, using them only in the most responsible way, understanding what that money means to those who sacrificed it. I don’t have any choice about taxes, but I do believe in the Republic. I hope you hold my funds sacred. I hope you understand the trust we have placed in you to spend our money. I hope you understand that an elected official is a servant, not an entitled aristocrat.
Thank you in advance for your response. I appreciate the service you render.
Yours sincerely
Emily Ward