Ruppersberger: U.S. should spend donations to lower national debt

Maryland Rep. C. A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D) says he has a plan to solve one sliver of the national debt problem:

Donations that the federal government accepts to pay down debt should be used for that purpose, and not to pad the government’s checkbook, as they have somewhat blindly done for 50 years. Ruppersberger plans to announce legislation Tuesday that he says will fix the problem.

Since 1961, the Bureau of Public Debt has maintained a post office box in West Virginia where citizens could send gifts to help pay down the federal debt. A stream of checks, cash and even gold coins have streamed in since, totaling more than $81 million, but none of the money has gone directly to paying down the debt.

Rather, as The Washington Post reported in July, the contributions have been deposited in the Treasury Department’s general fund, in essence the government’s main checking account.

“We must demand that [citizens’] generous donations actually be used to pay down the debt and are not available to fund future spending,” Ruppersberger says in a statement announcing a Tuesday afternoon news conference with Lucile McConnell, a constituent of his who unwittingly raised $8,000 for the cause.

Ruppersberger’s aides said it was the work of McConnell, who in the 1990s formed a grass-roots group to encourage Americans to contribute their spare pennies to pay down the national debt, that inspired his proposed legislation.

McConnell went to schools and held fundraisers, concerts, news conferences and award banquets to try to get citizens in Maryland and elsewhere to contribute to the cause. With the national debt soaring, McConnell recently took the organization’s mascot, a giant penny costume dubbed Mr. Penny, out of her Randallstown, Md., home to restart the crusade.

When informed by The Post in July that her pennies had not gone directly to repaying the debt, McConnell said she was saddened. But she said she still believes that the PO box, and the generosity it has inspired, is the best way to help tackle the country’s debt.

Staff writer Cezary Podkul contributed to this report.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

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