AOL published information on what Congress members spent in the last six months of 2009 and the first 3 months of 2010 from their MRAs -- Member Representative Allowances. (Which appear to not have any specified limit.) This is all taxpayer money, and most budgets range from $1.3 million to $1.9 million per year. Per Congressman/woman. And the numbers AOL published represent nine months.
It's pretty unreal when you look at it. It's further unreal when you have worked in the private sector or at any job where you had to submit expenses which had to be approved. Who is in charge of approving some of this, and why is it being approved?
$2.6 million on food and beverages, including:
$604,000 spent on bottled water. Is tap water not good enough? At my law firm, we drink filtered tap water. If we want bottled water, we buy it ourselves. It doesn't get expensed, unless you are at the airport after an entire day of depositions and are about to pass out from dehydration.
$9,450 on Coca Cola products? $84,794 on coffee? Seriously? No one has a vending machine or a coffeemaker in their offices? At my office, we have a vending machine if anyone wants pop (and you pay for it yourself), and we have a coffeemaker, which is "free," but if you want Starbucks you are on your own. Why in the hell are taxpayers paying for Congresspeople's coffee and drinks? This is absurd.
$209,673 spent on food for Congressional pages. I'm sorry, but unless they are being required to work clearly through lunch or dinner timeframes, this should not be expensed. And if they are being required to work through lunch or dinner, is it really necessary and why?
$124,000 spent on catering for just three House offices. We don't know who.
$11 million spent on newspapers and other resources. Apparently no one in Congress has figured out that you can get the majority of this information free on the Internet, at least currently. What a waste.
$12.7 million in travel. Given the huge number of vacations Congress gets, do they really need to be going home so much? If they aren't going home, where else are they going and why?
In summary, I'm not quite sure why all of us taxpayers should be required to tighten our belts and deal with issues in the economy when Congressional members clearly haven't been doing the same. We've certainly tightened things up at my law firm. In my mind, I'm trying to calculate the number of people and divide this up, but the fact is, when you look at the entire number it looks crazy. A billion dollars in expenses for nine months for 535 people? $1.8 million per person for nine months? This makes no sense at all. Why is it so expensive to be in Congress? It shouldn't be. I understand they have offices and employees and such, that's fine. But no reasonable person should spend $1.8 million in nine months, nor should they even think about spending that much on bullshit like water and coffee and extensive trips when taxpayers are footing the bill.
I'm going to keep my eye on what else AOL finds, because it sounds like they are going to try and break things down further....