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Representative Hastings: “A Generous Spirit”…

2 min readBy: Mark Robyn

…At least when he has other people's money in his wallet. This is from a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the real fate of Congress's (apparently overly generous) travel per diems. The article would be more entertaining if it wasn't about how lawmakers are pocketing my money. It is difficult to choose, but here are some of my favorite parts:

Former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said lawmakers often used leftover money "for shopping or to buy souvenirs to bring back to constituents. That's fairly standard."[…]

Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) said he once bought marble goblets in the Kabul airport as gifts for constituents. Rep. Mark Souder (R., Ind.) said he dipped into his funds to buy a $200 painting of an estuary in Turkey, which hung in his office for a while and was now in his house.[…]

"You are all concerned about nickels and dimes, and I'm not," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.). "You know, in a taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. icab in Kazakhstan, I don't have time to get a receipt-I don't speak Kazakh."

In a subsequent interview, Mr. Hastings said he had time to gather receipts, but didn't.

Mr. Hastings said he sometimes used the extra taxpayer money to buy gifts, meals or drinks for military pilots, security officials and interpreters who travel with him. On a trip earlier this year to the Middle East, Mr. Hastings gave $100 to an Iraqi refugee, he said.

"I'm a generous spirit and a courteous spirit," Mr. Hastings said. "I stand accused."

So many clever comebacks and sarcastic jabs are zooming around my brain right now that I'm having trouble getting any of them onto my computer screen. Oh well, maybe it's for the better. The article and the lawmakers basically speak for themselves.

Joe Kristan at the Tax Update blog recalls a similar situation not long ago:

A few years ago, the IRS put its foot down. Auto mechanics were being provided "tool allowances" without being required to turn in receipts for any tools they purchased. The IRS made it quite clear that without receipts, the entire "tool allowance" was taxable income that had darned well better be included in the mechanics' W-2 income.[…]

As important as it is to keep our leaders supplied with marble goblets, the tax law is pretty clear. Unless done under IRS per-diem rules, unaccountable travel allowances are taxable incomeTaxable income is the amount of income subject to tax, after deductions and exemptions. For both individuals and corporations, taxable income differs from—and is less than—gross income. , just like tool allowances — even if the "tools" happen to be in Congress.