Less than four short months ago, 12 intrepid legislators boarded the starship Super Committee. Their mission: to seek out strange new elements from the distant galaxy called Compromise that would lower the long-term deficit.
They returned from that mission on Monday at least $1.5 million deeper in debt with nothing to show for their efforts.
Chalk up their fanciful flight as another example of congressional waste, which, while not exactly fraudulent, certainly abused the public trust.
Since mid-August, six senators and six representatives from both political parties spent a significant portion of their time working on the Super Committee, staffers who did not wish to be identified said. One senator’s spokesman indicated the amount of time in recent weeks was “more than half” and included weekends staying behind in the capital instead of returning home to mingle with constituents.
Committee members were charged under the August Budget Control Act with coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years that would be voted either up or down by Congress. Failure to come up with a compromise plan would automatically trigger across-the-board cuts starting January 2013, with half coming from the Defense Department.
Since most political pundits and budget analysts predict Congress will eventually come up with alternative scenarios to avoid deep cuts in defense and to deal with expiring tax cuts, it is fair to say that most of the money spent over the past three months was wasted.
How much was that? Senators and representatives earn $174,000 a year, which if you throw in benefits of about 20 percent of salary comes to around $208,800 a year. If you allocate a conservative 25 percent of their time over the full three months devoted to Super Committee work, about $626,400 in salaried time for the Failed Dozen was wasted.
But these men and women don’t work on their own. They have dedicated staffs helping them out. In fact, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the average House member receives $1,446,009 for staff salary and expenses while the average Senate member receives $3,409,093. If we allocate just 10 percent of total staff time and resources over those three months to the Super Committee’s activities, it adds an additional $728,265 to the total spent on the failed endeavor.
That brings the total to $1.35 million. The law setting up the Committee stipulated its miscellaneous expenses (meeting rooms, photocopies, telephones, etc.) would be shared equally between the House and Senate. A spokesman for the Secretary of the Senate, whose office pays the Senate’s share of the vouchers, said the office staff will try to track down how much has been disbursed to date.
But, if we add conservatively another $165,000 to the total for expenses, it brings the grand total to $1.5 million.