It's not easy to be the guy crusading against cheap Senate hair cuts and luxury car rental stipends, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., argues it's about time for his buddies on Capitol Hill to tighten up their belts and share some of the pain of constituents back home.
After all, he argues the economy is still sluggish and other government agencies have had to make tough choices since Congress allowed $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to bear down inside and outside of the Beltway. "Congress continues to delay the hard choices that will solve our biggest and most pressing problem: an unsustainable long-term debt," Coburn wrote Friday in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "As the federal government manages sequestration, Congress should finally do what it has avoided doing for so long—identify fiscal priorities—and there is no better place to start than within Congress's own halls."
First to go on Coburn's waste-busting list is the excessive cost of printing. Last year the Government Printing Office spent $126 million and while a lot of it "may be useful" (like for Coburn and his giant charts), the Oklahoma senator says the office prints multiple copies of every new bill when the legislation is available online. In the 112th Congress, that was more than 6,700 bills, a huge number considering only about four percent became law.
Another target is transportation stipends for lawmakers and their staff. Congressional staffers can get more than $2,000 a year in Metro subsidies.
And House members get a more luxurious auto bailout of their own.
Each member is eligible for an $1,000 stipend every month to rent vehicles from an authorized list. Environmental Protection Agency-approved cars include BMWs, Audis, and Porsches. As of 2012, 76 lawmakers were enrolled in the program.
But it's not just rides that Coburn is targeting.
Coburn also wants to slash Senators' grooming perks. The Senate Hair Care salon, which cost taxpayers more than $400,000 last year, has lost at least $300,000 every year on haircuts, shoe shining and nail services since 1997. Although, the barbershop has been scaling back since the late 1970s (Senators haven't gotten free cuts since 1979), the cost for a basic hair service is still just $20. In March, some staff did take buyouts to absorb a part of the sequester.
Self help is another area where the senator sees room for improvement. While the Senate and House learning centers were created to offer classes to help staffers improve their job performance, Coburn argues a roster of classes like "Benefits of a Good Night Sleep" and "Lighten Up! Spring Cleaning for your Body and Your Life," belong outside of the corridors of Capitol Hill.
However, if Coburn cannot get Reid to see his side by illustrating waste and fraud across Capitol Hill, he hopes he can appeal to Reid enough to cut one privilege only available to Reid's counterparts in the House.
"Former Speakers of the House can claim nearly $1 million a year for five years after they leave Congress to maintain an office for archiving documents and tying up unfinished business," Coburn wrote. "What makes this particularly unique is no equivalent benefit is available to former majority leaders of the Senate."
The bottom line, Coburn says, is that if Republicans and Democrats in Congress cannot come together to solve the country's most complex problems like cutting spending and restructuring Social Security and other endangered entitlement programs, the least they could do is put the photography classes for staffers on hiatus while the rest of the country pinches its pennies.