It's that time of year again when the Detroit Free Press publishes the results of their annual Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request list of House members paying for leases using their office budgets.
A first glance at the monthly lease payments members are making may make you wonder whether your Congressman (or woman) has even the slightest clue about how to "deal" with a car salesperson. The Freep definitely is pushing the populist shtick by merely providing the monthly cost for the lease. The problem highlighted to me by two house offices we spoke with this morning is a bit more nuanced than the Freep leads you to believe...
The problem is that the rules of the US Congress allow members and their staff to be reimbursed $0.405 per mile. And as was pointed out to me by a staffer of a member not mentioned in the story:
"We have a reimbursement rate of $0.405 per mile for members and staff when they drive their own car, and my member drives around 4,300 miles a month. In one month, if we were to reimburse, taxpayers would be footing the bill for just over $1,700. It just makes sense to lease these vehicles...the bigger problem is that Congress shouldn't be paying that much per mile in reimbursement. If the leadership were to pass a reduction in that rate or reimbursement it would lower the incentive to lease and increase the incentive for members to use their own vehicles."
And that argument makes sense to us. A closer look at the numbers seems to provide proof for what the staffers were saying. The members with the districts where public transportation exists, or where geographic distances are small, like Rep. Anthony Weiner of NYC (yes Weiner and member in the same sentence, get the chuckles out now kiddies), tend to have the lowest cost leases.
It makes it easy to lease a vehicle at a reasonable price when you're looking at putting 1,000 miles or less per month on your car. It's not so easy when you're putting 4,000 or more miles per month on your car. In addition, because leadership in Congress aren't willing to drop the reimbursement rate, they are forced to either inefficiently use their own car or inefficiently lease their a car. Gotta love the US government.
What Would Walter Preston Brownlow Drive? Leased Cars of the US Congress [internal]