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It's Only Another $174,000 in Federal Spending

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

If you read the text of the continuing resolution the House passed Tuesday to fund the federal government for a month, you will find an interesting passage on page 4.

"Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act," it says, "there is hereby appropriated for fiscal year 2020 for payment to Maya M. Rockeymoore, widow of Elijah Cummings, late a Representative from the State of Maryland, $174,000."

What did Rockeymoore do for the taxpayers to earn this money?

A Washington consultant and former Maryland gubernatorial candidate, she recently resigned as chair of her state's Democratic Party to seek the House seat vacated by her deceased husband.

"Rockeymoore Cummings, who resigned Monday as party chair, is a public policy consultant who founded the Washington consulting firm Global Policy Solutions LLC," the Associated Press reported last week.

"I'm going to run this race and I'm going to run it hard, as if he's still right here by my side," the AP quoted her as saying.

Of course, Rockeymoore's late husband will not be at her side, but the equivalent of one year's salary for a member of Congress will be deposited in her bank account if -- as is expected -- President Donald Trump signs this spending bill into law.

Maya Rockeymoore, however, is not unique. Her husband's former colleagues are treating her just like they have long treated all spouses of deceased members of Congress.

A study published by the Congressional Research Service in 2012 explained what is called the congressional "death gratuity" -- which is paid above and beyond all salary that is due to a member who dies during his term in office.

"By law, any unpaid balance of salary or other sums due to a deceased Representative or Resident Commissioner are to be paid to their beneficiaries," said the CRS.

"In addition," said the CRS, "it has been the typical practice of the House to provide a death gratuity, equal to the Member's annual salary, payable to the deceased Member's widow or widower, or children, either in the annual legislative branch appropriations act or a measure providing supplemental funds for the legislative branch."

The CRS report indicated that the Senate follows the same practice. "The Senate Handbook," the report said, "indicates that '(i)n the next Appropriations Bill, an item will be inserted for a gratuity to be paid to the widow(er) or other next-of-kin, in the amount of one year's compensation.'"

"By statute," says the CRS, "a death gratuity is considered a gift."

But from whom?

The members of Congress who have enacted previous bills that included language directing the Treasury to provide the equivalent of a full year's salary to the spouse of a deceased colleague were not giving that person their own money.

They were giving that person your money -- or your children's and your grandchildren's money.

And this, of course, is exactly how the Washington establishment has long shown how compassionate it is: It takes money from one group of people and gives it to another.

In 2018, according to the Census Bureau, full-time, year-round workers in America had median earnings of $50,653. That means that when a member of Congress dies, his colleagues grant his spouse a "gift" that is 3.4 times the annual median earnings of hardworking citizens.

In other words, the federal government needs to confiscate the equivalent of all the money an American earning the median income takes in from more than 40 months of full-time work just to fund the "gift" it is handing over to the surviving spouse of one its deceased colleagues.

Since Congress plans to run annual deficits in every fiscal year for the foreseeable future, this "gift" might alternatively be paid with borrowed money -- adding to the $1.1 trillion deficit the Office of Management and Budget had previously estimated the Treasury would run this year.

In that case, the Treasury will issue bonds to secure the cash needed to fund that "gift" and then roll those bonds over and over -- unless the federal government actually pays off its debt someday.

If it does not pay off its debt -- which, of course, is the more likely scenario -- it will simply need to tax future generations in perpetuity to cover the interest owed to the bondholders.

Or if the 535 members of the House and Senate truly wanted to give a $174,000 "gift" to the surviving spouse of a deceased colleague, they could each contribute $325.23 of their own money to fund that generous gift.

That gift would equal about 0.19% of each regular member's taxpayer-funded $174,000 salary.

And it would equal only about 0.15% of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's $223,500 government salary.

But what do you think the odds are they would ever actually pay for their "gift" with their own taxpayer-funded salaries rather than put it directly on the federal credit card and charge it to your grandkids?

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSnews.com.

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