Someone once said that, to make politicians more fiscally responsible, there should be a sign in every legislator’s office reading, “It’s Not Your Money!” In reality, the sign should read just the opposite — because they know it’s not their money, spending it freely doesn’t hurt them personally.
Case in point: today’s New York Times article on the cars that congressman lease with your tax dollars. There’s Charles Rangel’s 17-foot-long Cadillac DeVille, Bobby Rush’s Lincoln Navigator, Maurice Hinchey’s BMW 530i, and on and on. These car leases cost hundreds of dollars per month (Gregory Meeks drives a 2007 Lexus LS 460 that goes for $998/month!!!), but the 125 representatives who use the privilege don’t have to pay a penny for it — nor do they pay for the insurance, registration fees, maintenance, or gas.
With that kind of perk, do you think they really care about the price of gas? Think they care about the fuel efficiency of their vehicles? They’re all driving luxury vehicles or SUVs, none of which get over 30 mpg. I’ll bet that, since it’s not money out of their own pocket, these politicians aren’t even shopping around and bargaining for the best deal. I’ll also bet that they’re putting the more expensive premium gas in their vehicles instead of regular. When it’s someone else’s checkbook and price is no object, who cares?
Rep. Rangel defends his Caddy by telling the Times he frequently offers rides to constituents so they can discuss their concerns in the luxurious confines of his DeVille: “I want them to feel that they are somebody and their congressman is somebody, and when they say ‘This is nice,’ it feels good.” My, how imperial of you, congressman!
I don’t care whether he feels good when someone compliments his car, but when they do, he should at least reply, “Thanks — you paid for it!”If a congressman wants to drive a car that impresses people, he should buy his own — and then drive it himself, unlike in the photo above. As for the rides, Rangel wasn’t elected to be a cabbie for his constituents. We already pay for his offices in DC and his home district, where he can meet the people of his district anytime he likes. More likely, he’s giving lifts to lobbyists who are used to getting special treatment from the politicians they pay for.
Ask the owner of any business that offers the leased-car perk to its employees, and they’ll tell you that they’re always watching the bottom line and keep a close eye on any expenses they reimburse. You don’t get to go out and use any car you want, at any cost — particularly if the company is running the kind of huge deficits our Congress continues to rack up.
Unfortunately, when it comes to politicians, there’s no one playing that watchdog role, no one auditing those in power, no one reminding them that they’re being spendthrifts with someone else’s money.Even more unfortunately, the only people who can change their spending ways are the very people who have the freebies. So don’t hold your breath.