Rep. Bartlett's half-right proposal

February 09, 1993

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-6th) has drafted a piece of legislation that's half-right. Mr. Bartlett's bill would allow members of the U.S. House of Representatives to use surplus funds from their office accounts to reduce the national debt or establish scholarships for their constituents.

Reducing the national debt is a good idea; establishing more congressional scholarships is not.

At present, surpluses from congressional office accounts -- one that pays for office supplies, mailings and staff salaries -- are deposited into the House fund where they sit for two years before being returned to the U.S. Treasury. In the past couple of years, about 2 percent -- between $12 million and $14 million -- has found its way back.

The returned money isn't used specifically for reducing the national debt. Even if it were, the amount would make but a tiny dent in the nation's $4 trillion debt.

Even so, the simple act of directing the money to the treasury for debt reduction would be an appropriate symbolic action that Congress is curbing its extravagant spending habits.

In Maryland, there is already plenty of evidence of the problems created when elected officials use public money to award scholarships.

The state's legislative scholarship program, which doles out about $6.8 million each year, has been tarnished by a long history of legislators giving scholarships to supporters, friends and even an occasional relative.

Too often, deserving applicants with real financial needs are rejected while legislators pass out these dollars to undeserving supporters.

Every other state has had the good sense to abolish its legislative scholarship programs. It would be a tremendous mistake for the U.S. House to embark on a similarly misguided program.

Mr. Bartlett, keeping a campaign promise, is donating or half -- or $60,000 -- of his congressional salary for scholarships to be awarded in his district. Donating his earnings is a much different proposition from donating taxpayer dollars, which is the proposal made in his bill.

Once Congress starts down this road, the program would

quickly become another perk that impossible to eliminate.

If members of Congress are sincerely interested in supporting scholarships for deserving students, they should appropriate money for existing federal college grant and loan programs. They are in dire need of money.

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