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Taxpayers to keep on paying for lawmaker cars

The Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) 2015 X4 (Jin Lee/Bloomberg)

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.

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

“Today, members of Congress can lease Lexuses, BMW’s, 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 – which he lists by name  – spend altogether $38,444.20 a month on car leases, according to Dupree, which is an average of $610.23 a month per lawmaker.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) spends the most on vehicles at $1,318.97 a month. But using federal funds on cars is indiscriminate. 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 paid for by taxpayers are intended for “official” use only. But the House Ethics manual says lawmakers may use their official vehicle for unofficial uses 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, members of the House may not spend their office allowance on greeting cards.

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.



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Colby Itkowitz · May 6, 2014

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