POLITICS: PennAve

Why Republicans are annoyed by Democrats' anti-perk pledges

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Republican Party,Democratic Party,Campaigns,PennAve,DCCC,Air Travel

A half-dozen Democratic candidates for the House have settled on suspiciously similar lists of perks they'd end if elected.

Candidates from Arkansas to upstate New York have said they'd do some of the following: stop lawmakers' paychecks at certain times, not take most taxpayer-funded trips overseas and even close a congressional gym.

The pledges all differ slightly. For example, one candidate wants to halt congressional pay during a shutdown, another when lawmakers have missed a vote and a third when Congress hasn’t passed a budget.

But they are similar enough that Republicans say they look more like a campaign stunt engineered by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee than an actual platform.

“With nothing else to run on, Democratic candidates across the country are running these DCCC-approved ‘paint-by-numbers’ campaigns,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ian Prior in an email.

The candidates, who are all running for open seats or against vulnerable Republican incumbents, did not say where they got the ideas from or did not respond to requests for an interview.

But DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bittner argued they were common sense.

“It’s no surprise that Democrats want to rein in these perks and save taxpayer dollars while Republicans continue to help themselves and their special interest friends get ahead,” she said in an email.

Here’s a closer look at the perks they’re targeting.

• Blocking congressional pay. Patrick Henry Hays, former mayor of North Little Rock, Ark., unveiled a "No Perks Pledge" on June 30 that included “no taxpayer-funded salaries” for lawmakers if Congress hasn't passed a budget and no pay raises until it balances the budget. (It's unclear whether he would turn down his own pay in those circumstances.) In Ohio, attorney Michael Wager, who is running against the vulnerable Rep. David Joyce, pledged not to take a pay raise until Congress raises the federal minimum wage. In Indiana, Joe Bock pledged to block pay during a shutdown and dock it when lawmakers miss votes.

• Limiting overseas trips, first-class flights and free airport parking. Hays also pledged not to take "taxpayer-funded overseas trips, except to U.S. military installations," while Wagner went further and said he would also skip "privately funded trips overseas." Aaron Woolf, producer of the documentary "King Corn” and a candidate for an open seat in upstate New York, pledged to undertake "no travel under the 'charter jet' loophole." Martha Robertson, who is running in New York against vulnerable Republican Rep. Tom Reed, said on July 3 that she wouldn't take "travel junkets paid for by groups with legislative agendas" or "taxpayer-funded first-class airfare." Aimee Belgard, who is running for an open seat in New Jersey, said she would reject first-class flights as well. Bock, meantime, called for an end to first-class airfare and free airport parking for lawmakers.

• Not sending campaign-style mailers to constituents. Belgard pledged not to use congressional mailing privileges to send “campaign-style mailers to constituents,” although that is technically already barred by franking rules. Robertson made a similar pledge against “taxpayer-funded campaign-style mailers.”

• Not working out or getting a haircut in the Capitol. Woolf also pledged not to use the congressional gym or the barber shop located in the Capitol. Belgard also pledged not to use the gym, saying it and other perks were “simply wrong.”

• Not seeing the Capitol doctor. Woolf also pledged to try to shut down the medical clinic in the Capitol that is free for use by lawmakers, saying that there should be “no funding for, nor use of, health care 'perks' that are not available to the general public.”

Jennifer Coffman, a spokeswoman for Bock, wouldn’t say whether his proposals were his own idea or something he came up with in collaboration with other Democratic candidates.

“Joe believes that Congress won't truly start working for the people until they stop putting themselves first,” she said in an email. “He's committed to changing a culture in D.C. that clearly isn't working for middle class families in Indiana.”

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