- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

The message from House lawmakers on Thursday: Don’t mess with our taxpayer-funded cars.

Republicans and Democrats alike joined together to protect their ability to use their public money from their office accounts to rent themselves cars, which they can use to tool around Washington or their districts back home.

Rep. Rich Nugent, Florida Republican, tried to kill the car program, saying the BMWs and Lexuses send a bad signal to constituents, particularly with the economy still sluggish.

“Members of Congress driving around the Capitol in luxury vehicles financed by taxpayers they represent isn’t exactly the image we want to portray to the American people, especially when many of the Americans are struggling just to get by,” he said.

The Senate has already banned the practice, and Mr. Nugent said it was time the People’s House followed their lead.

But his proposal was defeated 221-196.

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Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who does not rent an official car but who defended the practice nonetheless, said some members find it more cost-efficient to rent a vehicle rather than to submit miles for reimbursement.

He also said the ban wouldn’t save money, since members would still have their full office accounts — they just wouldn’t be allowed to spend their money on leasing a car for themselves.

“At the end of the day I just simply don’t want to micromanage members and how they spend money through this bill,” Mr. Cole said.

He said 63 lawmakers do lease themselves cars on the taxpayers’ dime, amounting to an average of $589 a year for each lawmaker.

All lawmakers’ official expenses are reported and made public periodically by the House’s chief administrative officer, so lawmakers who lease cars have to report that and can be judged by their constituents, Mr. Cole said.

The car debate came as the House voted on its own funding for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Lawmakers did approve freezing funding for the Botanic Garden, housed on the Capitol grounds, at 2014 levels, but they rejected freezing funding for the Capitol’s visitor center.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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