THE MAILBOX – Here is more junk mail plus the usual ransom notices, threatening letters from debt collectors and former friends – I didn’t actually know my dog was rabid. What’s this? A letter from my Congressman, how nice, I guess, because it reminds me of a recent news article about Congress, specifically about the expenses of our U.S. senators. On a list of all 100 senators compiled by the Washington Post and listed by amount of office expense, Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn take spots four and five, respectively, as most expensive.
You read right. Our own two U.S. senators from Texas are among the biggest spenders of taxpayers’ dollars – on themselves and their helpers. Cruz’s office spent $3.8 million from April 2013 through March 2014 on salaries, office equipment and travel to and from the state. Cornyn was close — his Senate office spent more than $3.7 million in the same 12-month period. And get this: Cornyn’s minority whip leadership office gave out more than $800,000 in salaries. How much are whips? Contrast these dollars with the average Senate office total: about $2.5 million. Only Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spent more. OK, we can expect Feinstein and Boxer to top the list. Those liberals never saw a tax dollar they couldn’t spend. But Marco Rubio, that darling of conservatives, that tea party pet, sworn to cut expenses? And then come our own spendthrifts.
We sent them to Washington to cut taxes (ours especially), shrink the size of government (but not our post office, VA hospital or our National Guard paychecks) and cut government expenses (but not our contract with the CIA for putty noses), reduce fraud and waste. They are Watchdogs of the Treasury. Every speech they give, every press release – which we pay for – bemoans the feds’ profligate ways, and they are fighting for us! So let’s peer into this a bit more. The news stories say many of the expenses their offices incurred came from travel to and from Texas for both senators and their staffers. Do they fly first class or rent Air Force One?
In that one-year period Cruz and his staff made 593 trips from Washington to the state. Cornyn and his staff made 344. Costs varied, ranging from as little as $100 to more than $6,000 for a trip Cornyn made through eight Texas cities in March. Here’s an eye-opener: Cruz spent around $18,000 on charter flights in Texas. Not all states have such wild spenders: 76 senators took commercial flights. Here’s another interesting item: “Just over a month before the federal government shut down in October, Sen. Ted Cruz’s staff of 51 people attended a retreat in Austin. The hotel expenses, posted on Nov. 18, totaled $11,610 and were paid to the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel.”
Two points jump off the ledger: 51 staffers? The junior senator from Texas has that army? Several must only book planes and hotels. And they stayed, ate and drank, at one of the ritziest pads in Austin. A spokeswoman said the hotel offered a federal rate and was the best option for the staff’s budget and needs. Fort Hood offers federal rates, so does Lackland. I suggest they bunk at one of those warehouses used to stick displaced Central American kids. But those concrete barns don’t have bars — except on the windows. Second point: Ted Cruz is the junior – repeat, junior – senator from Texas, having been in office one year and eight months, low down in the senate’s pecking order. Just wait till he is minority whip, then wait till he’s majority whip. There goes our next submarine
We must contrast these forms of transportation with another Texas Congressman: Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn, who served in Congress 48 years – 17 as speaker, almost twice as long as second-place Tip O’Neill. Back in Mister Sam’s days, railroad companies would give free tickets to members of Congress. Sam never took the tickets and usually rode coach. His mother once wrote him, “We often wish for you to be with us, but we would rather wait a little longer than for you to accept free passes.” As speaker, Rayburn had a staff of six.
Such frugality leads directly to this letter from my U.S. representative. He writes that he is pursuing “rigorous fiscal discipline,” and “my job is to say ‘no’ to more federal spending, unless it is for law enforcement, national defense, scientific research, or space exploration.” That’s fine with most of us, as long as we don’t want to drive on the Interstate highways, let our children consume uninspected food and fly on planes with no air controllers down below to make sure we don’t collide with Cruz’s missile. But the Congressman may have one problem. No Census Bureau means no census, which is what he and others twist to gerrymander Texas so they can keep their jobs. He also wants to withhold funds from the Dept. of Homeland Security until it can prove “our immigration laws are fully and equally enforced.” Doesn’t he understand the law barring the immediate deportation of those children IS being enforced – a law enacted when he was in Congress and signed by President George W. Bush? That IS the law.
Down at the bottom of this blatant campaign literature is type so small you need the Hubble telescope to read it: “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense. It is provided as a service to constituents.” Sam Rayburn never mailed out one news letterer in his 48 years in office. A last observation: For the first time in its history, Congress has a majority of millionaires – a few more Democrats than Republicans. Some of you exhausted taxpayers may observe that all of these doings by Texas’ current Congressmen are deep-fried hypocrisy, and you demand a change. Change can be made. It’s called “voting.” Like I said, here’s more junk mail.
Ashby pays at email@example.com