House Republican freshmen have been in Washington for a year, but they haven’t become part of the established order. A group of these members gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to announce they would do their share to pay down the nation’s crippling $15.4 trillion debt. They believe fiscal responsibility begins with their own office budget.
When first-term Rep. Jeff Landry was about to give back 11 percent of his budget - $160,000 - that he did not spend, he uncovered the little-known procedural hiccup. This cash sits unused in an account for two years before being vaguely transferred to the public purse.
“Where does the money go?” the Louisiana Republican asked in an interview with The Washington Times. “I don’t want it to just go back to Treasury and some guy writes a check to Solyndra.”
Mr. Landry and seven other freshman colleagues sent a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner to ask him to direct their office savings immediately to the Treasury Department’s special “Gift to reduce the debt held by the public.” This green-eyeshade gang - Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Steve Southerland of Florida, Joe Walsh of Illinois and Kevin Yoder of Kansas - saved a total of $1.4 million in their first year.
This group has set an example for how government can trim the fat when necessary. Mr. Labrador saved the most at $300,000, which is 21 percent of the money his office was allotted. “It’s a very tiny drop in the bucket,” he acknowledged to The Washington Times. “But if we all put a drop in the bucket, eventually we will fill it.”
One way the Idahoan saved money was by doing less franked mail and more tele-town halls to communicate with his constituents. He explained he wanted to operate a more efficient office because, “We’re spending $3.5 trillion a year. We’re borrowing 42 percent of that. And I just think it’s time for all federal agencies and offices to look for ways to give money back.”
After the letter was received, Mr. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel responded that, “We are sympathetic and want to help. We need to figure out the best way to accomplish their goals.” The speaker’s office is looking into whether the process change can be done without legislation. Mr. Boehner himself returns money every year from his personal office budget. Under his leadership, the House cut office expenses by 5 percent last year and an additional 5 percent this year.
The upper chamber also has given back funds, with freshman Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, last month signing over a check representing $500,000 saved.
No one on the Hill says that these amounts could cover the $4.4 billion that is added to the debt each and every day, but these Tea Party newcomers are bringing business smarts and real-world accounting to Washington. The old guard should follow their lead.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.