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Taxpayers Continue Paying For Lawmakers’ Automobiles

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Taxpayers Continue Paying For Lawmakers' Automobiles
Photo credit: Exotic Car Life / Flickr

Wouldn’t it be nice if your employer paid for your car? Typically this is a perk reserved for the top employees in large, successful companies, and even there it is not as common as it used to be.

However, if you work for the government, it is a different story altogether.

Recently, Congress took up the issue of pay raises for themselves. In the still sluggish Obama economy, in which millions of Americans are still struggling to find work, it would have been difficult for members of the House and Senate to justify pay raises for themselves. On top of that, the federal deficit is expected to exceed half a trillion dollars in 2014 according to the Budget and Economic Outlook by the CBO, only furthering the need for cuts wherever possible.

If a large private corporation was racking up debt as quickly as the federal government is, it would be reasonable to expect them to cut back on fringe benefits, such as monthly car payments, even for some of their top employees. However, in the world of government, cutting back just isn’t in the picture.

While it is true that Congress voted against giving themselves a pay increase in 2014, the House of Representatives voted down a measure that would have prevented them from leasing cars using taxpayer funds, according to a report in The Washington Post.

The argument that some of the lawmakers have made in the past, and continue to make now, is that there are duties that require members of Congress to travel, and it is reasonable to expense the leasing of a car for official businesses. While there is certainly validity to that argument, it does not tell the entire story.

In an age of massive budget deficits, and an economy in which all Americans have had to make sacrifices, it would be reasonable to expect that lawmakers would choose to lease frugal cars. Certainly, there are plenty of options on the market that are safe, reliable, and affordable. However, according to that same report in The Washington Post, many of the cars leased by members of Congress are top of the line luxury cars, such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Lexus.

In fact, the average monthly lease for the 63 House members that choose to utilize such a perk is $589, which is significantly more than the typical household spends on a car payment, and even more than most companies will allot for car allowances for their employees. The most egregious example is Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), who spends $1,318.97 in federal funds every month on his vehicle, according to the same Washington Post report.

The other argument lawmakers use to justify the expense is that it is only used for official government business. However, even the House Ethics manual stats that lawmakers may use official government vehicles for unofficial purposes if it is “along the route of a day’s official itinerary.” It is easy to imagine a lawmaker conveniently combining his personal and official errands so they happen to intersect.

At the end of the day, this is yet one more example of how politicians in Washington are living in a dream world, where money is limitless (since it is taken from the taxpayers), and there are no consequences for their actions. Don’t let lawmakers fool you when they claim to be sacrificing pay increases for the “greater good”. It is difficult to claim sacrifice while an average above $500 per month is spent on car leases.

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