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EDITORIAL: Pocket money for politicians

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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They might talk a good game and say they feel your pain, but don't expect members of Congress to really understand the struggles of hardworking Americans in this recession. While the middle class is scrimping to get by, our spoiled political class enjoys up to $250 per day to cover food and other sundry expenses when traveling overseas. No, life isn't so tough on Capitol Hill.

It's not as if lawmakers are left to fend for themselves when they travel. Their schedules typically are jam-packed on foreign junkets, especially with meals and banquets sponsored by interests looking to curry favor with American VIPs. The fact is, our public servants rarely need their lavish street cash to get fed, so they blow taxpayer money on other things rather than return their leftover per diem. "There's a tacit understanding that if lawmakers don't spend the money, they get to keep it," former Rep. Sue Kelly, New York Republican, told the Wall Street Journal. Some public servants use their allowance to buy souvenirs, go shopping, cover their spouses' travel or even pick up a painting or two.

Credit for highlighting congressional spending abuses like these goes to the Pork Report, published by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, which draws attention to the ridiculous taxpayer-funded spending habits of our elected representatives.

It's hardly surprising that irresponsible government stewardship of public resources trickles down from Washington to the local level. Lawand Johnson, director of Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Housing Authority - which is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - racked up more than $2,000 in personal expenses on a government credit card. "I thought it was my card," Ms. Johnson explained, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. That lame excuse might be more believable if two of her predecessors hadn't been fired for misusing public funds for private purposes (one with an agency credit card) in 2000 and 2004.

The Tea Party movement is building momentum because Americans are outraged by out-of-touch government officials. No wonder.

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