Lawmakers not driving away vehicle allowances

Al Kamen
Columnist May 7

Last week, members of Congress voted against giving themselves a bump in pay. It would have been terrible optics.

But they couldn’t quite part with that monthly allowance covering the lease on their cars, a cost of nearly half a million dollars a year. The Senate jettisoned this perk years ago.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) offered an amendment to forbid House members from using (abusing?) their office budgets for car payments, but it fell short by about 20 votes.

“Today, members of Congress can lease Lexuses, BMWs, Infinities, Mercedes, all fall within the guidelines. Not all do that, but does that send a message to our folks back home that this is the right way to do it?” Nugent asked during the floor debate.

During that debate, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said 63 House members use their allotted office budgets to pay their auto leases at an average of $589 a month.

Jamie Dupree, who writes a blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, helpfully broke it down further on Monday and found the average to be slightly higher. Those 63 lawmakers — whom he lists by name — spend altogether $38,444.20 a month on car leases, Dupree said, which is an average of $610.23 a month per lawmaker.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) spends the most on vehicles, at $1,318.97 a month. His office tells the Loop that covers two cars, a 2011 Chevy Equinox and a 2013 GMC Yukon. With the mileage reimbursement rate at 56 cents per mile, Neugebauer’s office says it’s more cost effective to lease cars than expense mileage.

Lawmakers of all stripes use federal money for cars. As Dupree points out, the list includes members of the House leadership, old and new members, liberals and conservatives.

Having your car bills paid is apparently the great unifier.

The cars funded by taxpayers are intended for “official” use only. The House Ethics Manual says lawmakers may use their official vehicles for unofficial use if it’s “along the route of a day’s official itinerary.”

It provides this example: “Member G has four official events to attend in his district one day. He will be traveling between events in the car leased for the use of his congressional district office and paid for out of official expenses allowance. As he drives from the second to the third event, he will pass by the dry cleaner. He may stop to pick up his dry cleaning, as it would be a permissible incidental nonofficial use of the car.”

But have no fear, budget hawks: According to the manual, members of the House may not spend their office allowance on greeting cards.

Hurry up and wait

It’s nothing personal against a nominee of President Obama when Republicans stall the confirmation process by forcing a cloture vote and then vote against limiting debate. It’s just part of the show.

A report released Wednesday from Common Cause, a liberal good government group, illustrates just that. It shows that although many cloture votes on nominees are hyperpartisan, when it comes to the final confirmation vote, the nominees sail through. More than a dozen U.S. district judges, for example, have been confirmed unanimously.

Republicans would argue that the votes involve two separate issues. One is tied up with the battle between parties over filibuster rights, and the other concerns the merits of the nominee. But Democrats and Common Cause contend that the constant cloture votes are a delay tactic that keeps presidential appointees waiting months to start their jobs.

For executive branch nominees, for example, 34 cloture votes have been held under Obama and just eight under President George W. Bush, according to the report.

Even with the Senate’s November 2013 rule change that requires 51 votes instead of the usual 60 to cut off debate, 258 nominees are still awaiting confirmation, and many are uncontroversial career bureaucrats.

“Such delays also create tremendous uncertainty in the lives of Americans who put themselves forward for public service and could dissuade our best and brightest from joining the government’s ranks,” the Common Cause report concludes.

But it’s nothing personal.

Legislating love

Former senator Alan Simpson can dole out budget advice . . . and sex counsel.

The Wyoming Republican, whose name is well known these days as one half of the deficit-reduction report that went nowhere, is apparently also available to provide young couples consultation on keeping the fire alive in their relationships.

Anna Sale, a New York radio reporter, spoke to Simpson and his wife for survival tips after Sale’s then-ex-boyfriend, who was living in Wyoming, turned to the former senator for help getting her back. The responses she got are extraordinary. Oh, and the pair are now reunited.

On Sale’s podcast, Simpson, 82, told her that it’s more about intimacy than “a couple of horny people.”

“Scratch my back. Give me a hug. Just a hug. I’d say, okay [pant-pant-pant]. Just a touch, you know, a whack on the fanny in the kitchen,” he said. “Or whatever, whatever.”

So Simpson couldn’t salvage the economy, but he could save love.

With Colby Itkowitz

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