WASHINGTON -- Republicans are shearing one of the long-standing perks in the House: taxpayer-subsidized beauty and barber shops.
The House's chief administrator was told yesterday to shut down the two enterprises and bring in private contractors to do the job.
"We want to make sure that the beauty and barber shops stop losing taxpayers' money," said Rep. Bill Thomas, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
For decades, House members and staff -- and even a few news reporters -- have availed themselves of the haircutting and styling services that are heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
For members, the shops -- which are not open to the public -- are one of the convenient perks of office.
One veteran Democratic staffer, upon learning of the GOP's privatization move, grumbled: "One more reason to flee this place."
Until recently, prices at the two shops were well below the going rates at private salons.
Before the House banking scandal erupted in 1991, men could get a haircut for $5, a beard trim for $1.50 and a mustache trim for 50 cents.
Even today, a man can get a haircut for $10 at the House barbershop; a woman can get her tresses trimmed for $28 or a perm for $50 at the hair salon. Tips are extra.
Posh private shops in the area sometimes charge twice as much.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich has ordered committee chairmen to find ways to cut the budget.
Compared with the billions of dollars in annual deficit spending by the government, saving a few thousand bucks on hair-styling services doesn't seem like much.
But for Mr. Thomas and his allies, the mere idea of subsidizing haircuts is irritating.
Although both shops ostensibly operate with "revolving funds" that are supposed to make them self-financing, they have long operated in the red.
In January alone, the barbershop took in $2,854 but spent $8,995 -- a loss of $6,141.
The women's hair salon took in $16,910 but spent $22,313 -- a loss of $5,403.
The salon also has a backlog of $13,000 in unpaid bills. And the barbershop is running a negative balance of $56,000 for the fiscal year.
Without the congressional subsidies, the two operations would have gone broke long ago.
For example, the salaries of all three House barbers, which average about $25,000, are paid out of a special legislative appropriation and not even counted in the revolving fund's ledger.
Bids will be sought from private parties to take over the shops in the Rayburn and Cannon office buildings, and the House will demand either monthly rent or a cut of the profits.
Either way, what has long been a money loser for Congress could turn a profit.