The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

And Here’s To You, Mrs. Lautenberg!

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The recent action by Congress to provide a death gratuity to the widow of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has raised a few eyebrows.  Specifically, the continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in the late evening hours of Wednesday, October 16, included $174,000 – the equivalent of one year’s salary for members of Congress – for Mrs. Bonnie Lautenberg.

While anyone from polite company certainly sympathizes with the loss of a beloved family member, Congress responds just as it does in almost any situation.  It throws money at the problem – money, unfortunately, that it does not have to throw. Moreover, in this particular instance, the late senator was worth an estimated $57 million at the time of his death.

If the irony of this development were to be parodied, the song Mrs. Robinson springs to mind.  A send-up of the Simon & Garfunkel classic might include the following verse:

And here’s to you, Mrs. Lautenberg:
Congress loves you more than you will know,
Woe, woe, woe…
God bless you please, Mrs. Lautenberg,
Senate gives a check for those who die,
My, my, my…

Indeed, rumor has it that the widow Lautenberg was unaware of such Congressional precedent.  In fact, the “token” gesture amounts to about three-tenths of one percent of the senator’s estimated worth.  In Washington-speak, such fractions are described as rounding errors.  But that just underscores the point: Senate tradition notwithstanding, it is an unnecessary expenditure of funds that we would have to borrow from someone else anyway.

Today, the national debt topped $17 trillion, as predicted by the so-called “default” deadline.  And, yes, this death “gratuity” (an unfortunate term) only amounts to about one one-hundred-millionth of that total debt burden.  But how much does a simple straw weigh?  Not much, of course.  At some point, though, that single piece of hay will break the back of even the strongest beast of burden.

Perhaps this tradition is one of those “low-hanging fruit” that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree is a luxury that, despite the institution’s best intentions, Congress can no longer afford.

 

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