Still, the rude jolt of budgetary reality won’t hit members where it would hurt them most. The annual salaries for members of Congress — $174,000 for most rank-and-filers — is exempt from sequester cuts.
And the nipping and tucking might not be enough to insulate Congress from the perception by voters that they’re dodging the pain that others — like federal workers getting furloughed, or constituents going without benefits — are feeling because of the sequester.
The salaries and benefits to Congress and the president have become a popular target of online outrage. Internet petitions, including on the liberal Moveon.org and several posted to the White House’s Web site, propose docking their pay during the sequester.
Still, the new ethos of fiscal austerity may cramp Congress’ style in other ways.
One perk that will disappear is overseas travel.
The congressional delegation dispatched to Rome this week to welcome the new pope will be flying commercial, per the policy that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) recently announced: no more trips for lawmakers on military jets. Under the new rules, House members may use money from their own budgets (or from those of their committees) to fly commercial airlines to their destinations. And with those budgets dwindling, that makes travel abroad much less likely.
That’s fine for recreational travel such as jaunts to the Paris Air Show, which have raised eyebrows in the past, members say. But some worry about curtailing visits to places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
“There are certain things members have an obligation to see that they can’t get from the telephone or even congressional testimony,” said Claude Chafin, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee.
House members are directed to fly as far as they can commercially, then thumb a ride with a military plane.
And that’s not all the inconveniences. Starting this week, some doors around the Capitol complex were closed to save security manpower, meaning that staff has had to wait in longer lines — and lawmakers might find their preferred routes in and out of the buildings curtailed. Money for the Capitol police force has been cut. So have support services, from landscaping to maintenence.
On a recent morning, dozens of staffers formed a queue that stretched to the end of the block near the Hart Senate Office Building. One woman twirled a lanyard holding her staff identification — the golden ticket that usually guarantees one a relatively quick path into Capitol offices — while a man next to her frantically typed out an e-mail on his BlackBerry.
But once inside the buildings of the sprawling Capitol complex, one would be hard-pressed to find other evidence that money was tight.
Trash cans had been recently emptied. Floors appeared freshly waxed.
And in the Capitol’s ornate Speaker’s Lobby, just off the House floor, where lawmakers were jawing with reporters during a vote, a toasty fire blazed as temperatures fell outside.
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