Waste of the Day: Congressional Expenses Are on the Honor System

By Adam Andrzejewski, June 28, 2024 Open The Books

Topline: Under new rules passed with bipartisan support last July, federal lawmakers can charge their food and housing to taxpayers based on self-reported numbers. What could go wrong?

House members reimbursed themselves $5.2 million last year under the rules that critics say rely on the “honor system” instead of receipts, according to a new report from The Washington Post.

Key facts: Federal politicians are now “strongly encouraged,” but not required, to keep receipts of their reimbursable expenses. This helps to “reduce burdens” on the lawmakers, according to draft legislation from the House chief administrative officer.

Lawmakers do not have to publicly disclose what they’re being reimbursed for. 

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Waste of the Day 6.28.24

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The system is supposed to help legislators afford housing in Washington D.C. and in their home state. Politicians can’t be reimbursed for their mortgages, but they can bill taxpayers for insurance, utilities, maintenance and more. They can also spend $79 on food each day they’re on the Hill and less while traveling, per Politico.

The program dispersed cash to 319 of the 435 House members last year, split almost evenly among party lines according to the Post.

Reps. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) were the top two spenders, each collecting over $40,000 for food and housing.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) billed taxpayers as much as $3,000 per month to cover expenses at her $1.6 million private residence. An anonymous source showed the Post a document listing Mace’s expenses at $1,726 per month and claimed that Mace’s staff was told to collect the maximum possible reimbursement. Mace denied the allegations.

Kedric Payne, former counselor at the Office of Congressional Ethics, told the Post that anyone who misuses the program could face corruption charges.

The program was created partially to avoid raising lawmakers’ salaries, which Congress members fear could create public backlash. House and Senate members make $174,000 and haven’t raised their pay since 2009.

Search all federal, state and local government salaries and vendor spending with the AI search bot, Benjamin, at OpenTheBooks.com

Summary: Federal spending should be subject to strict limits and rigorous oversight, not a Congressman’s pinky promise.

The #WasteOfTheDay is brought to you by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.