As the country hurtled toward the fiscal cliff and sequestration, House Republican leaders apparently couldn't live without their catering, coffee and cars.
In the last quarter of 2012, they spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to bring in food and drink from upscale restaurants, trendy coffee shops and grocery stores _ even though Congress was only in session about a third of the time, according to congressional expenditure documents reviewed by the Washington Guardian.
A congressional audit report for October, November and December showed the top three Republican House leaders' offices spent almost $30,000 in "supplies and materials" - of which almost $24,000, or 80.4 percent, was for food and beverages. Some of their favorites were Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Joe Ragan’s coffee supplies, Dunkin Donuts, PF Chang's, Qdobi Mexican Grill and Taylor Gourmet, the records show.
In addition, Democrats and Republicans were spending tens of thousands on rental cars and almost $10,000 to attend an emergency management convention. And some representatives - of both parties - gave their aides cash bonuses last year, a taxpayer tab totaling more than $2.5 million, according to a CNN analysis.
The congressional spending on perks and privileges stands in sharp contrast with the sympathetic rhetoric lawmakers now offer in the face of the sequester budget cuts that are expected to impact ordinary Americans.
“The larger question - where will Congress show its own belt tightening when some of the dislocations caused by sequester begin to bite out in the country - is as yet unanswered,” said Norm Ornstein, an expert on Congress and a senior political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute. “But I doubt it will involve cutting out the coffee at the caucus meeting.”
House Speaker John Boehner’s office racked up $2,204.66 in coffee supply purchases during the month of November alone.
In another instance, California Republican and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s office spent nearly $2,500 of his more than $10,000 in expenses in one day at Qdoba Mexican Grill. Among the expenses listed in McCarthy’s expenditure report - in addition to the Qdoba tab - are $2,300 at Chicken Out Catering and almost $2,600 at Buca di Beppo restaurant in Washington.
When asked by the Washington Guardian what cuts it has made due to sequestration, McCarthy's office said: “We have been planning for the cuts as a result of the sequester and have made the necessary adjustments to our budget.”
McCarthy’s office did not provide detailed information on what cuts had been made or if his aids salaries were part of the cuts to his budget. His office was not, however, among those listed in the CNN analysis as having given any staff bonuses.
The Speaker’s office had more than $15,000 in expenses, according to the congressional audit report, more than $11,000 of which was for food and beverages. The spending came even though Congress was only is session 35 of the 92 days in October, November and December.
Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel did not return several emails and phone calls made to his office in the past several days.
The smallest expenditure tab belonged to Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office, which totaled less than $4,200. Almost $3,000 of that was for purchases at Harris Teeter, Safeway, Dunkin' Donuts, and Highland Estates Coffee.
Another Congressional expenditure report details $33,000 in automobile expenses spent during October, November and December. It shows almost $30,000 in expenditures for car leases and almost $4,000 in expenditures for gasoline.
And the House Office of Emergency Management spent $9,600 to attend conventions.
The House expenses come at a time when U.S. agencies and departments are implementing $85 billion of deep cuts in their own budgets. The U.S. military is preparing for nearly 800,000 civilian furloughs starting in April, totaling 20 percent in salary cuts.
The hardest hit states facing civilian furloughs and military cuts are Virginia, California, Texas, Maryland and Georgia, according to the Pentagon. The furloughs are expected to save nearly $5 billion.
U.S. troops have not been spared. The militaries Tuition Assistance Program, which aids qualified personnel with $4,500 a year has also been suspended, along with a federal housing program that has helped nearly 100,000 veterans.
But while federal agencies and personnel are feeling the blunt blow of sequestration, nearly 25 percent of House members gave their staffers bonuses this year, totaling $2.5 million, according to a CNN investigation.
“While the military is facing higher unemployment rates than any other sector, the government is cutting their tuition assistance making it more difficult to find a job in the future when they get out,” said a military official, who spoke on background for lack of authorization to speak on the matter. “And all this at the expense of a bloated congressional ‘Latte’ budget.”