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Editorial: Do Unto Others

Congress Should Align Its Own Spending With Public in Mind

For at least a decade now, it’s been a mantra that Members of Congress ought to abide by policies that they prescribe for the rest of the country. But by that standard, the House Republican budget proposal falls short.

The fiscal 2011 continuing resolution currently on the House floor slashes domestic discretionary spending for federal programs as a whole by more than 15 percent below 2010 spending levels. But cuts to the legislative branch come to only 4 percent.

Moreover, the funding proposal contains an increase for the Capitol Police of $12.5 million but at the same time slashes aid to state and local law enforcement by $581 million and reduces the COPS hiring program by nearly $300 million. It also cuts Federal Emergency Management Agency first-responder aid by $1.4 billion.

And while Republicans justifiably have been slamming President Barack Obama for failing to address the unsustainable burden of future entitlement costs — while failing to come up with proposals themselves — no action whatever is contemplated to make the federal employee (and Congressional) pension system more like that prevailing in the private sector.

“I’ve asked [House] offices and programs to share the pain of tough spending cuts,” Rep.  Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, told the Washington Post.

Indeed, the GOP plan would cut House expenses by $194 million, including $29 million from the Architect of the Capitol, whose office maintains Congressional buildings; $41 million from the Library of Congress; $12 million from the Government Printing Office; and $2 million from the Congressional Budget Office.

These reductions were proposed, of course, without any hearings on what they would entail, which is true for the entire GOP CR proposal. The cuts were drawn up in haste to satisfy a GOP election promise to cut $100 billion from current spending.

The $12.5 million for the Capitol Police evidently comes in response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) as a means of adding to Members’ security.

But the fact is, her wounding took place in Tucson, Ariz., far from the Capitol complex, and spoke more to the needs of local law enforcement than federal. Members are more in need of protection in their districts and states than in the Capitol.

On the pension front, Members do not receive extravagant post-retirement payments — they average $40,000 a year under the Federal Employee Retirement System, plus Social Security.

But according to a study last year by the centrist group Third Way, “federal employees enjoy one of the most generous retirement plans in the country. ... For every one dollar that is contributed by the employee, $14 is contributed by the taxpayer.”

In the private sector, contributions tend to be 50-50. If federal employees and the government contributed equally, “taxpayers would save $114 billion over ten years — without affecting benefit payouts.”

The GOP CR is far from the final word on spending, even for the current fiscal year. As the budget process goes forward, the principle of Congress’s living as it expects the public to ought to be a major factor.

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