Capitol Hill Jackpot


Sometimes people over-pay their bills.  Sometimes it’s a simple mistake on the consumer’s part.  It can also happen when services are purchased in advance, based on an estimated price, and a refund is due because the final bill was a bit lower.

That’s essentially how the government works.  A budget is prepared in advance, and taxes are levied to provide the necessary funding.  Well, most of the necessary funding.  Okay, some of the necessary funding.  The rest is supplied by unicorns, which gallop across the federal budget and leave little piles of deficit, here and there.

It’s quite possible that our hard-working, heavily unionized civil servants could accomplish their goals for a lower cost than their allocated budget.  Would the excess funds be refunded to taxpayers, just like a private company would be obligated to issue a refund for overpayment?

[pause for the sound of unicorns laughing hysterically, then racing off to create more piles of deficit.]

Here’s an example of what really happens, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:  The last election cleaned 96 lawmakers from the House of Representatives.  Most of these prudent guardians of the public treasury had money from their lavish million-dollar operating budgets left over, when it was time to clean out their desks.

While “Some lawmakers make a show of officially returning a small portion to the Treasury,” the Journal explains, “most try to use up as much of their budgets as possible.”  A quick way to do this is to divide the money into fat bonus checks for loyal staffers.  The employees of these departing representatives enjoyed a boost of 31% in compensation during the fourth quarter of 2010, amounting to $6.7 million.  Some of them got bonuses of $10,000 or more.

Remember when Democrats were screaming to high heaven about the huge bonuses collected by the executives of corporations that received government bailouts?  Some of those bonus payments were pretty hard to swallow, although I was more outraged by the bailouts than the bonuses.  Now we’ve got employees of the most corrupt and bankrupt “company” in the history of the world, walking out the door with plump bonus checks because the “stockholders” finally got around to “firing” their bosses. 

The Journal interviewed some lawmakers who defended this practice by saying “aides work hard for smaller salaries than they could earn elsewhere, and that modest bonuses are one way of offering a reward. Some said they wanted to help employees as they look for new jobs.”  Those bonuses are also a great way to stay on good terms with people who will probably still be part of the Washington machine in some capacity for years to come.  When a defeated lawmaker looks for a big-ticket job at a lobbying firm, the names in his Rolodex are a big part of his resume.

$6.7 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the gigantic federal budget, which is apparently so sacred that a paltry $60 billion in cuts amount to heresy.  It’s a bipartisan irritation, as both Republicans and Democrats do the same thing when they lose their seats.  As a microcosm of the way our bloated government absorbs money, it’s small and understandable enough to stick in the minds of voters.  The government is a black hole from which no surplus dollar can escape.