Bartlett's Half-Right Proposal HOWARD COUNTY

February 09, 1993

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, whose 6th District includes a portion of Howard County, has drafted a piece of legislation that's half-right. Mr. Bartlett's bill would allow U.S. 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 another congressional scholarship is not.

At present, surpluses from congressional office accounts -- which pay 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 national debt. However, using the money for debt reduction would be an appropriate symbolic action that Congress is curbing its extravagant spending habits.

A conversation with fellow Republican and Howard County Del. Robert Kittleman -- the leader of an effort to end the state's legislative scholarship program -- would probably convince Mr. Bartlett to drop the scholarship proposal. Maryland's program, which doles out about $6.8 million of taxpayer funds annually, has been tarnished by a history of legislators giving scholarships to supporters, friends and an occasional relative. Too often, deserving applicants with real financial needs are rejected while legislators pass out these dollars to undeserving supporters who have no financial need.

Every other state has had the good sense to abolish these legislative scholarship programs. It would be a tremendous mistake for the U.S. House to begin a similar program.

Mr. Bartlett, keeping a campaign promise, is donating $60,000 -- or half -- of his congressional salary for scholarships to be awarded in his district. Donating his earnings is a different proposition from donating taxpayer dollars. If members of Congress are sincerely interested in supporting scholarships for deserving students, they should appropriate money for existing federal college programs that have been in dire need of money.

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