By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Conservatives and Tea Party activists struggling to find a tight-fisted, frugal presidential candidate who will stop raiding the federal budget should stop looking inside the House and Senate and gaze across the street to the Supreme Court. That's where one of the most consistent budget tightwads and federal contract cops resides: Justice Clarence Thomas.
He proved it again today, presenting the Supreme Court budget to the House Appropriations Committee with a commitment to stay stingy when using tax dollars. "The Supreme Court's budgetary needs are tiny compared to the whole federal government. We nevertheless take very seriously our responsibility to review carefully our needs and seek no more funding than necessary," said the justice. "We are well aware that, in these difficult times, we must be especially vigilant in maintaining budgetary discipline."
Presenting the $77.5 million salary and expenses portion of the court's budget (the Architect of the Capitol presents the construction and upkeep bill), Thomas sounded like former President Bush's penny pinching first budget boss Mitch Daniels, now the two-term governor of Indiana and considered a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
As he has in past appearances, Thomas then backed it up with proof that as the court's budget representative, he has run a tight ship. Some examples:
- Court security officials need 24 new cops to help patrol new entrances that are being opened for the public and court workers. Thomas asked for 12. "We are aware that Congress expects every agency of government to do more with less," he said.
- His team has cracked the whip on contractors who are two to three years behind on the court modernization project. Even so, with the project now slated to be completed in 2011 instead of 2008, Thomas said "the project remains within its original budget.
- The overall salaries and expenses budget request for fiscal 2011 is just 5 percent over last year's and driven mostly by mandated salary increases and inflationary increases in fixed costs of the court's operations.
- A $799,000 project approved last year to take over control of the court's website from an outside contractors has gone smoothly. Already up and running, he said that the website received more than 25 million hits from users around the world in the first two weeks.
Said Thomas in his testimony: "We are aware of the severe budgetary constraints facing the federal government, and we recognize that the committee must balance the needs of all the agencies under its jurisdiction and make difficult decisions in applying available funds to the most pressing needs. The budget request we submit, as in previous years, represents only what we think is absolutely necessary to fulfill the court's mission. We appreciate your careful attention to our modest needs."
- See a slide show of the members of the Supreme Court.