U.S. Sen. Rand Paul announced Thursday that he will return to the federal treasury $500,000 of his office budget that was not used.Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green, is a staunch proponent of federal spending cuts, but he said many of his efforts to reduce spending through legislation have failed to pass Congress.
“This is the one thing I have control over,” Paul said during a news conference at the St. Matthews Community Center on Ten Pin Lane off of Shelbyville Road.
This month, Paul intends to propose legislation that would offer incentives to civil servants, such as bonuses, for doing something similar — leaving a portion of their budgets unspent, he said.
Such a plan could save federal money without cutting the services provided, Paul contends.
He said the savings came through judicious spending for office equipment, such as computers, and the hiring of his Senate staff.
He has 12 staff members in Kentucky and about 15 in Washington, D.C., which is similar to other U.S. senators, he said. Paul said his staff’s pay is also commensurate with the offices of other senators, but that his office has been frugal in making job and salary offers.
Paul said his staff has still managed to be active in preparing legislation and other tasks, despite his self-imposed spending limits.
“We are doing our job, but still saving money,” Paul said.
The $500,000 saving is from his first year in office, and Paul said he intends to continue his frugal office spending throughout his six-year term. But the amount may be less in the future, because he intends to give staff pay increases, he said. Still, Paul said the savings over his entire term could total “well over a million” dollars.
Paul said he was “sort of aghast” when told he got $3 million for the year for his office. The amount was a reduction from previous years, and Paul said he supports further reducing the amount given to senators and House members for their offices.
Paul estimated that similar efforts to his by every senator and House member could save the federal government more than $100 million a year.
READ MORE: COURIER-JOURNAL.COM
Frugal senators return office funds to U.S.Sen. Rand Paul made a big show of it: He called a news conference and unveiled a Publishers Clearinghouse-size check for $500,000, the amount of unspent office funds he was returning to the U.S. Treasury after his first year in office.
Just doing his part to reduce the deficit, right? But Paul (R-Ky.) isn’t special — virtually every senator returns a few bucks to the treasury each year from their office budget — and some have become pretty aggressive about showing their fiscal fortitude.
During the past three years, Sen. Richard Shelby has returned more money to taxpayers than any other senator — about 40 percent or $1.2 million a year — according to a POLITICO analysis of all Senate office budgets. Sen. Barbara Boxer has consistently given back the least: less than 1 percent each year.
The gulf between Shelby, an Alabama Republican, and Boxer, a California Democrat, reflects a philosophical divide in Congress about how much money lawmakers need to effectively represent their states and constituents as the debate rages over the proper size and scope of the federal government.
But the office budget stats don’t necessarily play to stereotypes about fiscal conservatives versus Big Government liberals. The most frugal senators after Shelby in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who returned a combined 34.3 percent of his budget; Jim Risch (R-Idaho) at 25.1 percent; Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at 23.6 percent; and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) at 23.5 percent.
Don’t mistake Shelby’s thriftiness for inaction, his spokesman warned. Since his election to the Senate in 1986, Shelby has attended 1,681 town halls. And what about his 23-member staff, split between Washington and five offices in Alabama? It’s “lean and efficient but well paid,” spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said.
Other senators seem content to use virtually all the office money they’re allotted.
During those same fiscal years, Boxer returned 0.65 percent of her budget; Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six deficit-cutting group, returned 0.86 percent; former Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) gave back 0.89 percent; Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) returned 0.92 percent; and Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) tied at slightly more than 1 percent.
Boxer’s office is unapologetic about its spending.
“We have always dedicated our resources to serving the 38 million people who live throughout California,” spokesman Andy Stone said, “whether it’s helping thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure, ensuring that veterans and seniors get the benefits they deserve or responding to the millions of calls and emails we receive each year from constituents.”
Overall, Senate Republicans returned about 11.7 percent of their $269 million in available office funds and Democrats returned about 8.3 percent of their budgeted amount of $390 million over the past two years, according to a POLITICO analysis of salaries, travel, rent, supplies and other expenses published by the secretary of the Senate.
This analysis did not take into account funding for Senate committees.
Of course, the total savings by Senate offices in those two fiscal years — about $64 million — won’t even nick the surface of the nation’s $15 trillion debt. But some senators said it’s crucial for lawmakers to lead by example. Republicans, in particular, have called for extending the two-year pay freeze for federal workers an extra year to pay for the cost of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits package.
“If Congress is not prepared to show leadership, I think it undermines your ability to ask other people to sacrifice,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, told POLITICO. Sessions returned roughly 9 percent of his budget in 2009 and 2010. He gave back more than 15 percent in fiscal year 2011, though figures for last year are incomplete since many senators are still in the process of submitting expenses.