- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009



In their recent rush to capitalize on populist anger over executive bonuses being given out by companies getting taxpayer bailouts, House Democratic and Republican lawmakers appear to have forgotten that they also give bonuses.

Citing data compiled by Legistorm.com on staff salary payments by House lawmakers, The Wall Street Journal reported that the average House aide earned 17 percent more in the fourth quarter of 2008 than in previous quarters. Hill staff bonuses are traditionally paid at the end of each year and this is the highest increase in the eight years Legistorm has tracked such data. Bonuses in Congress reached as high as $14,000. More than 200 Republican and Democratic lawmakers provided more than $9.1 million in extra compensation to over 2,000 staffers. More than 100 of the staffers received six-figure salaries. Obviously, all of this comes from taxpayer dollars.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, and ranking GOP member Spencer Bachus of Alabama are among the lawmakers that gave bonuses to staff. These extra dole outs were reportedly divided about evenly between both parties. Senators also give such bonuses, although the year-end salary data for the Senate is not yet available.

It is pertinent to note that 2008 was an election year, when many staffers take unpaid leaves of absence to work on campaigns. This means that more money could technically be available to pay staff bonuses, but such transactions give the appearance of paybacks for campaign work.

The bonus money comes out of the annual budgets provided to lawmakers. Most offices spend all they are allotted, otherwise the funds are returned to a general House account. Chiefs of staff to House lawmakers report that their offices received an unexpected major increase in those budgets for this year by upwards of $90,000 after years of largely flat funding. We bet that the level of bonuses will increase again this year. The total cost of the 2009 budgetary increases alone is expected to run around $40 million.

With some irony, the House passed legislation Wednesday restricting compensation at firms receiving federal bailout money. And lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including all House Democratic leaders and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, last month backed constitutionally questionable legislation that would have taxed away bonuses paid to AIG executives.

Speaker Pelosi’s spokesman, Brendan Daly, dismissed any comparison of House staffer bonuses to those provided by corporate welfare cases, “who ran their companies and people’s savings into the ground.” He added that the average House bonus was $3,000 to $4,000. “The difference is salary,” he told us. “Most staffers don’t make much money. This is a way to give them a little boost. These are staffers in many cases who work very long hours. Most of these staffers could make a lot more money (in the private sector).”

We are not arguing that taxpayer dollars should be used to give bonuses to corporate executives or that insurance giant AIG’s payment of bonuses to executives of questionable talent with taxpayer funds is not madness. But we are likewise uncomfortable with the practice of using taxpayer money to give bonuses to government employees when government deficits and debt are ballooning. After all, serving the public is what public service is all about. We don’t think government employees should get bonuses at all. If they don’t like it, they are free to try the private sector. The job market might not be as welcoming to them as they like to believe.

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