- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Americans are cutting back on their household expenses in this tough economy, but members of Congress want an 83 percent increase in the franking budget to pay for their mail next year. The request should be returned to sender.

It’s no coincidence that 2010 is an election year. The taxpayer subsidy of congressional mail is nothing more than a campaign contribution to help incumbents get re-elected.

The franking privilege is the deal Congress gives itself so members can use their signatures - known as franks - in place of a stamp, and government pays for the mailing. The House of Representatives’ chief administrative officer has requested $35 million. That’s a $16 million boost, so you will get more junk mail and pay more for it, too.

The franking surge is part of a $90 million budget increase Congress is giving itself next year for staff salaries, travel and office expenses. Congress members increase the franking budget every other year, which conveniently corresponds to the election cycle. Essentially, the taxpayer is underwriting the costs of incumbents’ direct-mail campaigns.

Jeff Ventura, communications director for the chief administrative officer, said the increase is “merely accommodating” spending trends by congressional offices. “It is based on the historic record of usage in even years and what they need in [mail] funding,” he told The Washington Times yesterday.

The origin of free mail for lawmakers dates to the 17th-century English House of Commons, according to the U.S. Senate’s Web site. The first U.S. Congress wrote it into law in 1789. After the Civil War, rubber stamps became the precursor to today’s electronically printed envelopes and the era of intense abuse began. Mail franking was banned by Congress in 1873, only to be reinstated gradually by 1891.

In this economy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to appreciate that belt-tightening should begin at her House. It is an abuse to use taxpayer funds for election-year propaganda. The archaic practice of franking all lawmaker mail should be ended, and members should pay for their extra election-year mailings out of their campaign coffers.

If they don’t want to save money, perhaps they could vote to save the paper-producing trees. Alternatively, they could e-mail interested voters. It worked well for President Obama.

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