Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2-20 Congress Should Cut Its Own Costs

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The president and Congress are getting a lot of encouragement as they tighten the screws on auto industry executives., reducing their pay and cutting their benefits.
As the cost cutting mandates extend to Wall Street, crowds are cheering even more. States now are getting into the act with their own cost cutting measures.
U.S. House members have joined in by voting not to take their automatic pay raises next year. But that's not going to be enough. Americans are beginning to reason that if taking corporate jets away from the captains of industry is a good idea, why not take away the corporate jets of Congress?
Didn't know Congress has corporate jets? Congress' corporation is the government. And the Air Force flies planes for the government. And it's not just in battle. The Air Force also flies members of Congress on most of their junkets. And Air Force planes are more expensive than corporate jets.
During the long holiday Congress took to observe Presidents Day, many members of Congress took off for all parts of the world. These weren't pleasure trips, mind you. They were fact finding missions. One plane load spent Valentines Day in Paris, with spouses, finding facts.
Americans are beginning to ask if maybe members of Congress might want to start feeling the nation's pain by downgrading to first class.
First class must not be too bad a deal. One member of Congress flew first class from Washington to London and back during the recess. The flights cost taxpayers a reported $18,000.
This sorta stuff has got to stop. I can find facts for free using my computer and for much less than $18,000 on the telephone. A personal touch is more effective at times. But not every time.
A friend of mine came up with a great idea for how Congress can become a part of the cost cutting it is asking of the private sector.
He says that when companies fall on difficult times, they often cut staff. Wall Street will congratulate the CEOs for making tough decisions and boards of directors give them big bonuses.
So why shouldn't Congress do the same thing? Cut Congress in half. That leaves 218 members in the House. That seems like plenty. The Senate would have 50 members. One for each state. That saves $45 million a year in congressional salaries and $432 million on their staff.
Then cut the staff of the remaining members of Congress by 25 percent, saving $97 million a year.
And here's the big savings. If the members of Congress are reduced by half, maybe the number of pork projects they add to bills would reduce accordingly. That would save $7.5 billion a year.
Other cuts might help Congress better understand the average American Joe. Instead of being eligible for retirement after only one term in office, make them put in at least 20 years like anyone else lucky enough to even have a retirement plan.
Health benefits for members of Congress should be tied to the industry average. That means that when Congress decides what is a reasonable health care standard for the nation, members of Congress will be part of it instead of having a Cadillac plan.
Americans also are looking at the president for some cuts. That's not in salary, mind you. He makes half what the director of the troubled U.S. Postal Service makes. He even makes less than the financial vice president at the University of New Mexico.
What is bothering people right now is the new helicopters that have been on order for some time. The current fleet is getting old and in need of updating for security purposes. But those updates have driven the cost of a helicopter to $400 million. And for some reason we need 28 of them.
You can be sure Congress and the president will be looking very closely at this program.
FRI, 2-20-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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