On scandals and spending

Since waste is the word of the week in Washington — along with "prostitute" and even "cookie" — let's put some taxpayer expenditures in context.

A junket in Vegas we all paid for, courtesy of the General Services Administration, is making headlines this week as Congress tried grilling GSA regional commissioner Jeffrey Neely about the lavish, $823,000 conference he arranged for GSA employees in 2010 that also included his wife and friends and turned out to be one of several trips he and his wife arranged on Uncle Sam's dime. Neely, whose emails told more than we need to know, pleaded the Fifth.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also took the hearing hot seat up on Capitol Hill this week to explain his use of military airplanes to and from California every other weekend when he goes home to relax and see his family. The airplanes are required for any travel for the DOD secretary, equipped with secure communications equipment. But the price tag is approximately $32,000, every other week — at a time when he is working to trim the Pentagon budget.

A new fight broke out this week in Congress over the attempt by House Republicans to cut more spending than was agreed to in the bipartisan debt deal of August 2011. The budget drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would spend just $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion agreed to in the deal, but the prospect of Democrats and the president objecting, and the House Republicans bringing the government to the brink of shutdown once again in October — just weeks before the election — was enough to make Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vote for an appropriations cap of $1.047 trillion.

By now, you have all heard way too much about the Buffett Rule, how the Republicans rejected it and then offered a competing package of small-business tax relief. The legislation backed by President Obama would tax all earners making more than $1 million per year at a rate of 30 percent, and would produce $46 billion in revenue over 10 years. The tax cuts House Republicans passed to help small businesses would cost $46 billion. The same amount.

With an ongoing debate about our burgeoning debt, our coming fiscal crisis, taxes, fairness and, of course, waste, Newt Gingrich's Secret Service protection raises more than a few questions. The former Speaker pretty much admits he can't win his party's nomination, but wants to stay in the presidential race because, well, it’s fun and keeps him in the spotlight and helps sell a few books. He is not campaigning so much but spends a good amount of time trying to solicit money on Twitter.

The Daily Caller reported this week that Gingrich's Secret Service detail is likely costing the taxpayer nearly $40,000 per day. The report notes that a Secret Service director estimated in 2008 that protecting Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama cost approximately $38,000 per day. Gingrich, according to the Caller, has recently had three people on his detail, but there are often "many more."

The Taxpayer Protection Alliance has had enough, and is calling on Gingrich to give it up and "show people that he understands that every tax dollar saved is important.” Gingrich's spokesman laughed that off. “Last time I checked, tax experts are not safety experts. And safety experts are not tax experts," R.C. Hammond told the Daily Caller, adding that it is not a waste of money. “Going out and protecting candidates and making sure they can pursue their candidacy in an election without harm — that’s exactly what we want to go on in this country.”

Gingrich was once a man of good ideas. These days he is great for a giggle. But this is a bit much.


WHO SHOULD ROMNEY CHOOSE FOR VP, AND WHY? Ask A.B. returns Thursday, April 26. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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