This should eliminate all doubts about how little some members of Congress understand about federal finances.
As Dana Milbank explains in his column from today’s The Washington Post, eight House Republican freshman made a grandstanding play this week to get public attention and credit for something that makes no financial sense whatsoever.
First, the eight representatives didn’t spend all of the amount they got in 2011 from the House of Representatives to pay for staff and other expenses in their Washington and district offices. They correctly claimed that they saved taxpayers money by doing so.
But second, the representatives then said that they wanted to return the unspent money to the Treasury and designate that the funds be used to reduce the national deb. They clearly felt that they should get big props for doing this.
This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.
The Treasury doesn’t give each member a wad of cash to spend; it only pays actual expenses after they’re incurred. Fewer expenses mean no spending; no spending means no federal borrowing.
In other words, the deficit and federal borrowing were already lower than they would otherwise have been just because the members of Congress didn’t spend all that they were allowed. There is no unspent cash to be returned to the Treasury and there’s nothing to designate for debt reduction.
The only way the eight first-term Republican House members could have done what they said they wanted to do was first to have gotten the Treasury to borrow more so that they could then use the borrowed funds to borrow less.
And it gets more ridiculous. The Treasury would have had to borrow the funds and pay them to the members of Congress personally (I’m pretty sure that’s against the law, but never mind). The members then would have had to return the funds they were not allowed to have back to the Treasury and ask that they be used to lower the debt.
In other words, the members of Congress who were trying to play the role of budget super heroes were really nothing more than financial illiterates. They were doing the Washington equivalent of being proud of paying down a balance on one credit card by getting a cash advance on another…and increasing that car’s balance in the process.
If you’re shaking your head at the stupidity of this situation…congratulations: You understand it better than at least eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For the record, the eight anything-but-financial-geniuses are Jeff Landry (R-LA), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Joe Walsh (R-IL), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Steve Southerland (R-FL), ad Mick Mulvaney (R-SC).
I doubt they’re embarrassed, but they really should be.