Pelosi buys $16K worth of flowers
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has spent $16,000 on flowers since taking office, one reason why she spent 63 percent more in her high-profile inaugural year than her low-key predecessor did last year.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent a little more than $3 million in the first nine months of 2007, records show, compared to the $1.8 million Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) spent during the same period in 2006.
Republicans are spending more as well. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has increased spending 23 percent above what Pelosi spent when she held the same job. That would be 16 percent if some of Hastert‚Äôs closing-out costs were deducted.
The spending patterns indicate Pelosi is seeking to restore the Speaker‚Äôs role as a counterweight to the president and reclaim some of the responsibilities Hastert had ceded to his aggressive majority leader, Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Because of their different roles, Pelosi aides say it is unfair to simply compare Pelosi‚Äôs spending to Hastert‚Äôs.
‚ÄúWhen Speaker Pelosi took the gavel, it was an historic moment. In the days since, the Speaker has hosted leaders from across the country and around the world ‚ÄĒ opening the People‚Äôs House to the people and discussing the work of the 110th Congress,‚ÄĚ Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in response to e-mailed questions. ‚ÄúThere are major new costs associated with setting up the new office of the new Speaker of the House.‚ÄĚ
Republicans say Pelosi‚Äôs office spending undercuts her message that Democrats are restoring fiscal responsibility to the halls of Congress.
‚ÄúThey could have saved the taxpayer $16,000 by sending out an intern to pick flowers from the Capitol lawn, but I guess that would have detracted from the $4 million worth of pork they planted as part of the ‚Äėgreening‚Äô project,‚ÄĚ said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Boehner.
Boehner will be refunding more than $1 million to the treasury from the money he was allocated, Kennedy said.
Most of the $16,058 that Pelosi charged taxpayers for flowers, Elshami said, was for the visits of foreign dignitaries, such as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Jordan‚Äôs King Abdullah.
‚ÄúMany of the same dignitaries and international leaders hosted by the White House ‚Ä¶ are also hosted by Speaker Pelosi,‚ÄĚ Elshami said. ‚ÄúThis expense is associated largely with these occasions and other Congress-wide, bipartisan events‚ÄĚ
While Hastert didn‚Äôt appear to spend any money on flowers last year, bouquets are not new to Pelosi‚Äôs office. She spent about $5,000 on flowers last year when she was minority leader.
Attempts to find out how much the White House spends on flowers were unsuccessful.
The increase from Hastert to Pelosi was driven largely by a surge in travel and a heavily fortified payroll.
Pelosi has more people working for her. Hastert employed 35 people during the third quarter of last year. Pelosi, by contrast, had 51 people on her payroll during the same time period.
‚ÄúAs the first Democratic Speaker in 12 years, there was a responsibility to the American people and the Democratic Caucus to hit the ground running and to pass the New Direction agenda,‚ÄĚ Elshami said. ‚ÄúTo achieve this goal, more resources were needed, including the hiring of additional staff in policy and research areas, for example.‚ÄĚ
Another factor in the disparity is travel. Hastert didn‚Äôt bill much official travel last year, spending only about $1,700, while Pelosi racked up many times that at nearly $60,000 ‚ÄĒ a figure that does not include her ‚Äúcongressional delegation‚ÄĚ journeys to Europe and the Middle East. It does, however, include many visits to congressional districts.
‚ÄúAs the first woman Speaker of the House and first Democratic Speaker in 12 years, there continues to be a demand for her to travel across the country to appear in congressional districts with members, to meet with local press and editorial boards, and to meet with representatives of the private sector,‚ÄĚ Elshami said.
Pelosi also has use of a ‚Äúlegislative floor activity‚ÄĚ account, while Boehner controls extra money for ‚Äúminority employees,‚ÄĚ which include his employees and those of other Republican leaders.
If those accounts are factored in, Pelosi‚Äôs spending increased 52 percent, and Boehner‚Äôs spending increased 12 percent.
The spending information is contained in thick books issued quarterly called the Statement of Disbursements of the House. Some call them ‚Äúbrown books‚ÄĚ for their beige covers (Senate books are green). Others call them ‚Äúbitch books,‚ÄĚ because congressional staffers look up their counterparts‚Äô salaries, then complain to their bosses if they‚Äôre paid less.
The books are often used to check spending of members‚Äô representational allowance, which in 2007 ranged from $1,262,065 to $1,600,539. Each member of leadership has an MRA account for his or her district office, and a separate account to cover the leadership office.
Under a continuing resolution passed in February, House members got $555 million for their MRAs, and leaders were allocated $24 million.
Other expenses in Pelosi‚Äôs office include:
‚ÄĘ A $10,000 contract to former Clinton White House speechwriter Heather Hurlburt to write the speech Pelosi delivered to the Israeli Knesset.
‚ÄĘ Nearly $20,000 to Washington attorney Richard Meltzer to help with Pelosi‚Äôs transition. ‚ÄúJust like a presidential transition, Richard Meltzer was hired to oversee the historic changeover of Congress,‚ÄĚ Elshami said.
‚ÄĘ More than $2,400 to hire a makeup artist for the week of her swearing in. Pelosi later reimbursed the entire cost from her personal funds.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has spent 1 percent more than Boehner spent when he was majority leader. Boehner was elected majority leader in early February 2006. The office is shrinking from the days of DeLay, who had 29 staffers in 2004. Hoyer had 23 employees in September.
As minority leader, Boehner has carried $127,000 to cover the costs of transitioning from Hastert‚Äôs tenure and archiving Hastert‚Äôs materials. Beyond that, he has spent more from his minority leader accounts than Pelosi did on services and some salaries.
‚ÄúMr. Boehner handles the office books the same way he‚Äôd like to see the federal budget administered, which is why he returned to the Treasury roughly $1 million from FY06 and is on track to best that number for FY07,‚ÄĚ Kennedy said. ‚ÄúAny modest increase in expenditures this year over last reflects the additional responsibilities he assumed as the highest-ranking Republican in the House.‚ÄĚ
The biggest swings were in some of the lower-profile offices.
House Minority Conference Chairman Adam Putnam‚Äôs (R-Fla.) office spent 58 percent more than Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) when he was the minority caucus chairman.
A spokesman for Putnam said he absorbed many departure costs for the outgoing conference chairwoman, Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). For example, many departure bonuses were paid to Pryce‚Äôs employees this year, counting toward Putnam‚Äôs total. The disbursement books show Putnam has spent about $200,000 less than Pryce did last year.
The biggest percentage decrease was for the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, run by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). The committee spent 28 percent less this year.
Putnam‚Äôs office said it is fairer to compare the spending of the whole Republican conference, steering and policy operations to the Democratic caucus, steering and policy operations.
Money is distributed evenly between the Republicans and Democrats for those functions, and the party leaders decide how to allocate them.
Under that calculation, Republicans spent 18 percent less than they did last year while Democrats‚Äô spending rose 4 percent over last year. Democrats, however, say that is not a legitimate comparison.
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