Posts

Expense accounts for House and Senate members add up

The salary for United States Senate and House of Representatives members is currently set at $174,000 which for just about anywhere in the country is very respectable, but are you familiar with the expense accounts available to Senate and House members? As is with government workers, it’s not always about the salary; you need to review the benefits.

Today, the Wall Street Journal has an oh-so-perfectly-timed Saturday story on House and Senate member government expense allowances which range between $1.3 million and $4.5 million per year. If they don’t use the allocated funds, they do not get to keep the money for the next year.

Of course, a significant portion of the allowance goes to staff salaries and travel, but read the full story in the WSJ to learn about some of the other big expenses.

Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings spent $24,730 in taxpayer money last year to lease a 2008 luxury Lexus hybrid sedan. Ohio Rep. Michael Turner expensed a $1,435 digital camera. Eni Faleomavaega, the House delegate from American Samoa, bought two 46-inch Sony TVs.

The expenditures were legal, properly accounted for and drawn from allowances the U.S. government grants to lawmakers. Equipment purchased with office expense accounts must be returned to the House or the federal General Services Administration when a lawmaker leaves office.

But as British politicians come under widening scorn for spending public money on everything from candy bars to moat-dredging, an examination of U.S. lawmakers’ expense claims shows Washington’s elected officials have also used public funds for eye-catching purchases.

If your wondering if expenses “increase” in the forth quarter of the year, you’d be barking up the right tree. Get this, staffers get bonuses.

The review showed that the increased year-end spending went not only toward equipment but also to fund year-end “bonuses” to aides. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to an earlier Journal analysis. Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000.

As Jim frequently notes, this does not seem like the definition of public service to me.

We don’t need legislation to remember Reagan’s 100th birthday

Ronald Reagan would have turned 100 on Feb. 6, 2011 and for some unknown reason, Congress feels the need to get involved with a proclamation or something to kick off the celebration. The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act passed the House on March 9 and it’s moved on to the Senate where Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) feels the need to block the legislation.

I never really did understand why Congress gets involved with these efforts. Maybe they feel like they don’t have enough to do so they call up a dozen or so bureaucrats and politicians to serve on an official committee providing advice to groups who intend to celebrate in some fashion.

Maybe they get to pick the color of the balloons or something.

Of course, the bill says that absolutely no federal funds can be used in this effort, and commission members shall not receive compensation, but the members can be reimbursed for expenses.

Great way to meet with some colleagues and write off dinner and drinks.

So, if no federal funds can be used, who’s paying the expenses? Want to bet expenses will eventually run in the hundreds of thousands? I’m a Reagan fan, but can’t the Reagan Library take care of this?

Anyway…

Back to Feingold holding up the legislation. He’s not against passing it, he just wants to tack on another piece of legislation. From The Hill (subscription required)…

Feingold’s decision to block passage of a bipartisan commission to celebrate the former president’s 100th birthday has nothing to do with antagonism toward the conservative icon. But he does want to use the momentum behind the bill to drive legislation of his own.

“Sen. Feingold has no interest in blocking this bill,” said a Feingold spokesman, referring to the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act. “He wants to offer an amendment to it, but that request was blocked by a Republican Senator.”

Feingold’s amendment would establish two commissions to study the internment and restrictions of German and Italian Americans and Jewish refugees during World War II, and it is unrelated to the Reagan bill. The Reagan measure would establish a commission to plan federal and state celebrations around Reagan’s centennial birthday in February 2011.

Feingold’s spokesman said that the noncontroversial bill would be a good vehicle for the internment amendment, which he said is also noncontroversial.

It turns out that Feingold’s legislation is not as cut and dry as it seems. Some Democrats are not too enthused with the suggested two commissions and they don’t want them.

“It should have no problem passing through the Judiciary Committee where Democrats have a 12-seat majority,” [Ryan] Patmintra said. “Sen. Feingold has decided to hold this bill hostage using his own” amendment.
On May 11, [Sen. Jon] Kyl [R-Ariz.] rejected a request by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) on behalf of Feingold to attach the Wartime Treatment Study Act to the Reagan commission bill.

A GOP aide said some Senate Democrats were not comfortable with Feingold’s amendment.

“That’s why he wants to attach it. [The Reagan bill] is a commission that everybody supports,” the aide said.

School yard crybabies – every single one of them.

Congress continues to make my point – Murtha’s nephew and $4 million

Too much power at the federal level leads to a culture of corruption in Washington D.C. I don’t care if you’re talking Democrats or Republicans. Of course, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) had “no influence” in awarding no-bid Pentagon contracts to his nephew … wink wink, nod nod.

The problem is not obvious corruption – of which there seems to be none here – but when you read about these types of contracts, you just feel a little dirty about it. You have to admit it, the Washington D.C. spending culture results in these stories and connections, even if nothing is really wrong or corrupt.

Here’s the story from the Washington Post, with a hat tip to Malkin.

Yet last year, Murtech received $4 million in Pentagon work, all of it without competition, for a variety of warehousing and engineering services. With its long corridor of sparsely occupied offices and an unmanned reception area, Murtech’s most striking feature is its owner — Robert C. Murtha Jr., 49. He is the nephew of Rep. John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has significant sway over the Defense Department’s spending as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

My guess is Robert Murtha’s company may just be the absolute best company to do this kind of work for the Pentagon. I’m going to assume that is the case.

Why was this a no-bid contract?

It comes down to this. Since the federal government has so much authority to spend cash on items not authorized by The Constitution, the media has the opportunity to go out and easily find stories that the public just soak up.

Murtha has been in Congress so damn long as the king of pork for his district, that he has single-handedly warped the minds of his constituents into thinking it’s his job to bring as much bacon/cash/pork back home as possible. If his district sends in $1 and they get $3 in return from the feds, they win.

And Murtha gets re-elected.

Do you see what the real problem is?

Others writing now includes Hot Air.

As far as the name “Murtha” being a hindrance, the Washington Post notes that Robert’s not the only Murtha doing all right despite that supposed handicap.  His father, John Murtha’s brother Robert Sr, runs another highly-successful lobbying group, KSA, that specializes in — wait for it — defense contracts from the Appropriations Committee.  If the name “Murtha” is a drag on government contracting, imagine what they could do by changing their names … maybe to Visclosky.

There may be good reasons to occasionally award no-bid contracts for highly specialized work, but warehousing doesn’t fall into that category.  Granting no-bid Pentagon contracts to a powerful Congressman’s nephew screams for an investigation, and a deeper look at the “culture of corruption” that seems to surround John Murtha and his allies on Capitol Hill.

AJStrata over at Strata-Sphere is calling this a witch hunt, but my point still stands. We need to look at the culture of control in Washington, along with the culture of corruption.

Life gets better with cash to spend – until you have to pay it back

Hold firm. For the next couple of months – maybe even for the next couple of years – you’re going to hear things are getting better, President Obama’s plan is going to work. As a matter of fact, I just heard a commentator on Fox News note things are getting better so why would we want to stop what is being done!

This is not unexpected and there is a good explanation. Hold firm.

If I loaned you $1 million, would your life be better today? Tomorrow? What about next week? Eventually you would need to pay back the $1 million – with interest of course – but the point is there could be an influx of good things in your life. You could buy a new car, boat, mountain bike, and maybe even one of those fancy iPhones without the two year commitment.

Of course, if I loaned you $100, you’re life could be better today as well, but there is a much better chance you would be able to pay back that loan, and that is where we are right now.

wapoobamabudget1The government is printing and handing out money so fast that nobody in Congress can tell you where it is going or what is being done with it. The problem is nobody knows how, when or if it can ever be paid back; and nobody seems to care.

The plan truly is generational theft and the end to any fiscal responsibility. The Constitution is – quite honestly – being ignored. Click on the popular chart, released by the Obama administration, showing the huge increase in the projected deficit.

But you have to look at the other side of the ledger as well. How much is the country producing and how does that compare to what the government is spending. For this figure, we use a chart showing the deficit – or surplus – as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

deficit-percent-gdpThe second chart to the right (click for full view) shows we are quickly jumping to 8+ percent (deficit) in 2009. We averaged about 2.5 percent (deficit) since 1970. This can be simply described as selling you an expensive car based on the assumption your income is going to get much better within the next few years.

We can use the example of a home mortgage. Normally, banks want to ensure you can afford to pay back a loan before they grant the mortgage. This is partially done by reviewing your debt to income ratio. If you have good credit, a bank will be comfortable with a debt ratio of about 30 percent.

That means the loan principal, interest, property taxes and insurance should not exceed 30 percent of your gross income. If you make $100,000 per year, you would be limited to payments of no more than $30,000 per year or $2,500 per month. Would a bank feel comfortable providing you a debt ratio at 50 percent? Probably not.

And neither are the Chinese.

The government is setting its own rules and tripling the accepted debt ratio. Between 1988 and 2008, the deficit as a percentage of GDP averaged 2 percent (deficit spending). The “bad years” came with the excessive spending after 9/11 and between  1988 and 1993. Of course, it was not to good in the mid-1980s either, but the best ray of hope was just after the 1996 Congress came to power.

Truth is stranger than fiction. The gingerbread house built by the Budget and Fiscal Services department of Honolulu collapsed. What a symbol of 2008. Image courtesy Quasic at Flickr

Truth is stranger than fiction. The gingerbread house built by the Budget and Fiscal Services department of Honolulu collapsed. What a symbol of 2008. Image courtesy Quasic at Flickr

Again, you’d be perfectly comfortable loaning money to someone at a debt to income ratio that makes sense, but this ratio does not make sense.

Hold firm.

As a conservative, I want you to remember that Congress – not the president – holds the purse strings for the country. Second, a huge portion of the federal spending is not authorized by the Constitution.

With that in mind we need to concentrate on our congressmen and women at home, put the pressure on them to end the federal spending that is not authorized by the Constitution.

Yes I know, people tell me that boat sailed long ago – FDRs New Deal headed us out of the harbor – but we must fight to take that power away from the federal government and bring it back to the states and the people.

Should Congress get involved with college football?

That’s the question, and your comments are welcome below. My first thought is “no.”  But since many schools are government subsidized in some way – including the UCONN Huskies and the Texas A&M Aggies – and media cash involved, the United States Congress is thinking about getting their all knowing legislators involved.

Here’s a clip from Breitbart.

The current system “leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year,” the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights said in a statement Wednesday announcing the hearings.

Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate in series, while others do not.

Obama and some members of Congress favor a playoff-type system to determine the national champion. The BCS features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer ratings.

I’m not a huge college football fan, but I do have a couple of dogs in the hunt since I like UCONN and the Aggies. When you have 120 teams just in the bowl subdivision, how are you supposed to work out a playoff system? Football is not like baseball where a team can play five or six games in a week.

Even if you picked just the top eight teams, you’re talking three weeks and only seven games. If you went with the top 16 teams, you’re talking adding another week.

Either way, you’ve got to figure out the best eight or 16 teams somehow; someone will get pretty mad every year. Just this year, there were 34 bowl games, so of the 120 teams more than half of them got to play post-season and were able to generate some TV money.

You know my opinion. The government should not be involved in education at all, which would keep Congress out of the issue, but…

Discuss…

House passes pork-filled appropriations bill – $410 billion

Less than 36 hours after the bill was released to the public, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 passed through the U.S. House of Representatives along party lines. 36 hours. Yeah, sure… the public – and even congress – had plenty of time to review 1,122 pages of pork.

Click here to read our previous post with details from the bill.

Let’s be clear about my definition of pork. If you can not find authorization to spend the money in the United States Constitution, it’s pork.

Does CNN currently have the news on their home page? How about CBS News? NBC? ABC?

Nope, gotta get the news from bloggers, Fox News and Yahoo News. Is there a concerted effort to hide these types of appropriation bills and release them to the public about one day before voting on them? Looks to be the case.

The Democratic-controlled House pushed through a $410 billion measure Wednesday that boosted domestic programs, bristled with earmarks and chipped away at policies left behind by the Bush administration.

The vote was 245-178, largely along party lines.

Republicans assailed the measure as too costly — particularly on the heels of a $787 billion stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed last week. But Democrats jabbed back.

“The same people who drove the economy into the ditch are now complaining about the size of the tow truck,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., pointing out the large increase in deficits that President George W. Bush and GOP-controlled Congresses amassed.

From the GOP side, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said the legislation was “going to grow the government 8.3 percent … but the family budget which has to pay for the federal budget only grew at 1.3 percent last year.”

Hot Air, Gateway Pundit and Malkin are all on it. Of course the spin is that there are no earmarks. Bull feathers.

Up next? How about a $700 billion “reserve” fund for health care provided by the feds over the next ten years.

Updated 2009 appropriations bill – $430 billion

As noted yesterday, I figured it would take less than 24 hours for a draft of the new House appropriations bill (H.R. 1105) to show up, and we’ve found it and have it here.

Hat tip to Sister Toldja who provides a link to the scanned draft [PDF, 13mb]. It has been posted on the House documents file server.

Update: Here is the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 as posted on the Library of Congress site. It is in Web format. Here is the new PDF formatted version [PDF, 2mb] of H.R. 1105, it is different than the scanned draft I reviewed this morning. The draft PDF link above is still available for background.

Here are excerpts from the summary documents [PDF, 56kb]. It all sounds so good, but if these items are federal responsibility, what is not their responsibility? Note that there are more details in the full bill, but it is 1,122 pages long.

  • Up to $10 million shall be made available for a United States contribution to the Least Developed Countries Fund to support grants for climate change adaptation programs and activities (p. 932 in the full bill)
  • Not less than $195 million for biodiversity programs in developing countries (p. 932 in the full bill)
  • $29.8 million for the Minority Business Development Agency
  • $3.1 billion to count the number of people in the United States (Bureau of the Census) (p. 89). Note that just counting the people is not enough, politicians need to know exact information on “population groups.” Remember, the census means it’s time to gerrymander the state districts and tweak them so incumbents (Democrats) can keep their seats. Why can’t we just count everyone?
  • $1.5 billion for Amtrak
  • $2.5 billion to make repairs and improvements to public housing
  • $550 million for community policing efforts
  • $73 million to fight meth
  • $240 million for economic development assistance
  • $390 million for legal assistance to people who can not afford it
  • $1.2 billion for international food aid
  • $160 million to provide food to people in need
  • $6.9 billion for WIC programs to provide food to mothers and kids
  • $175 million for research and development of solar energy
  • $217 million for biofuels
  • $273 million to improve vehicle fuel efficiency
  • $2 billion to study global climate change
  • $6.5 billion for scientific research at colleges and universities
  • $200 million for insulation and energy conservation measures for low-income families
  • Another $178 million for climate change research (fighting global climate changes is mentioned many times with multiple dollar amounts)
  • $110 million for small business development centers
  • $106 million for grants to states to ensure reliable, accurate and accessible elections (hah, hah)
  • $245 million to explain the tax code to people
  • $20 million to improve Washington D.C. public schools
  • $39 million to compensate for security costs of national events including the recent inauguration
  • $310 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities
  • $30 billion for research into diseases
  • Almost $500 million for childhood immunizations
  • More than $40 billion for Pell Grants, student financial aid, Head Start and child care assistance
  • $1.5 billion for training those who recently lost their jobs
  • $810 million for meals for senior citizens

Note: I have removed the previous list from the draft since we now have the up-to-date legislation. I had put together most of the post based on the draft, but this post has been re-written during the day with updated info from H.R. 1105.

What can you find? Add what you find in HR 1105 to the comments section below. Provide a brief description, cost and page number.

Congress wants your 401(k) tax breaks back

This is unbelievable. Since Congress has totally screwed up Social Security and refuse to do a damn thing about it, now they are looking for more cash to fund their out-of-control spending. Since we know we can not depend on Social Security for our retirement, many smart investors are depending on 401(k) accounts, IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Author note: While I’m away from the computer, I’m republishing my top 20 posts from 2008 each afternoon. -Steve

All three offer tax breaks either now or in the future and get this, a couple of Democrats don’t think they are getting enough for their investment. Their investment? They have the gall to think that $80 million in tax breaks provided to 401k investors is an investment. It’s our damn money!

Hat tip goes to LGF for this one, and here is the original article in Workforce Week. My emphasis added in bold.

Powerful House Democrats are eyeing proposals to overhaul the nation’s $3 trillion 401(k) system, including the elimination of most of the $80 billion in annual tax breaks that 401(k) investors receive.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-California, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, are looking at redirecting those tax breaks to a new system of guaranteed retirement accounts to which all workers would be obliged to contribute.

Under Ghilarducci’s [Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic-policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York] plan, all workers would receive a $600 annual inflation-adjusted subsidy from the U.S. government but would be required to invest 5 percent of their pay into a guaranteed retirement account administered by the Social Security Administration. The money in turn would be invested in special government bonds that would pay 3 percent a year, adjusted for inflation.

The current system of providing tax breaks on 401(k) contributions and earnings would be eliminated.

“I want to stop the federal subsidy of 401(k)s,” Ghilarducci said in an interview. “401(k)s can continue to exist, but they won’t have the benefit of the subsidy of the tax break.”

Under the current 401(k) system, investors are charged relatively high retail fees, Ghilarducci said.

“I want to spend our nation’s dollar for retirement security better. Everybody would now be covered” if the plan were adopted, Ghilarducci said.

It’s not your damn money to spend Ghilarducci.

The savings rate isn’t going up for the investment of $80 billion,” he [House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif.] said. “We have to start to think about … whether or not we want to continue to invest that $80 billion for a policy that’s not generating what we now say it should.”

These politicians want to get their hands on your personal retirement accounts. This is money invested – 100 percent – by you and in many cases your employer. Since tax breaks are involved and the damn politicians need more money from you to give to others and spread the wealth, they clearly are considering just taking it from you.

If the tax breaks go away, employers will stop their contributions and many employees will stop investing their own money, but that’s OK, since the government will demand you invest 5 percent into government bonds administered by the Social Security Administration.

Are you kidding me?

Just wait. Do you think your Roth IRA investments will be safe from government hacks that think you don’t deserve to keep your own money? The return on your Roth IRA investments are currently 100 percent tax free, but I guaranty you that liberals will want to tax that money in the future since people will have invested and “gained more than their fair share” in the stock market.

Hot Air just posted, and James Pethokoukis at US News uses the socialism word. Watch out, you might be called racist.

Vicevich has it too.

Throw all the bums out!

Audit Congress

Well you knew it had to happen sooner or later. Some of you have already suggested it and I can’t say its a bad idea.

Have you paid your taxes lately? If you said
“yes” then you are in good company.  Millions of Americans not only
struggle with the duty of following a convoluted tax code, but they
sweat out the approaching tax deadline.  We live in fear of the IRS,
bringing in experts to ensure we comply with federal law and do it in a
way that won’t come back to haunt us.

But we’re not seeing the same concern from our leaders.  In fact, it
seems all too common that national leaders are not only tax scofflaws,
but even when their tax evasion is exposed, there are few
consequences.  They certainly appear to cheat, yet still get plum jobs
and perks of high office.

Click here to learn more.

Getting all the way in to the stimulus package

Crazy title I know, but along with Heritage Foundations readthestimulus.org Web site, we also have a another site called Senate Conservative Fund that offers the full text – that is searchable – of all 430-plus pages of the bill.

Update: New cleaner version of H.R. 1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. a.k.a. Generational Theft Act of 2009.

The grand total being thrown about is $1.1 trillion dollars. Hat tip to Malkin, but I can not figure out how to search the document.

You can jump over to the Senate Conservative Fund site if you’d like, but I’ve also provided direct links to the PDF below. I don’t know anything about this group, other than the following…

Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) is a political action committee dedicated to electing true conservatives to the United States Senate.

Sounds good to me.

What they did here is take the time to scan every page and ensure the scanner was set to read the text as it went through. I’m not certain I have the most current version of Adobe Reader, so I may not have the functionality right now to search.

Update: readthestimulus.org also has PDF and text versions,  as well as a spreadsheet or two dated Jan.15 with $350 billion in spending. Check that out.

Exit question: Why does Congress make bills so difficult to review it requires private groups to scan and review the documents and make them available to the public? You would think that the government would be willing to spend some resources on providing the public with easy to read electronic documents and spreadsheets that clearly explain – in plain friggin’ language thank you – what they are spending and what they are spending it on!

Come on people! Rise up!

We know why, they do not want the public to see them – plain and simple.