Washington Briefs for March 11, 2013

Sequester affects congressional office budgets

By Jordan Blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

While the salaries of the president and members of the U.S. Congress are untouched by the across-the-board budget cuts going into effect, their congressional office budgets are affected.

Members of Congress are looking to cut 5 percent to 8 percent of their office and committee budgets, which means roughly $100,000 for House members and closer to $300,000 for senators.

Those in the Louisiana congressional delegation said they have prepared to enact such cuts and that previous cuts were already put in place two years ago.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said he is cutting back on his travel expenses, such as taking cheaper flights to and from Baltimore instead of Washington, D.C., and that his office has come in nearly $100,000 under budget each year anyway.

“If we have to do more with less, we will. That’s what American families and businesses have been doing,” Cassidy said. “And I regard the taxpayers’ dollars as if I have a fiduciary responsibility to spend it as wisely as possible.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, and others said they have cut back on employees through attrition and that they are spending less on mailings to constituents. Alexander said his office has four fewer people now and that he is no longer leasing a vehicle in Washington.

Overall, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said his office budget is down 11 percent. “We worked it into our budget early,” Scalise said, adding that the president should have done the same.

In the Senate, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has cut “several” positions through attrition and has reduced travel by using more videoconferences and teleconferences. “Knowing that the sequester was a possibility, my office and I worked early on last year to improve efficiencies and increase savings so — despite the sequester — we can continue to effectively work for and assist Louisianians,” Landrieu said in an emailed response.

Then there are others like U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who are still assessing. Richmond had planned to add another office because his district now stretches into Baton Rouge.

“We are asking many people to sacrifice or live within their means, and I should be no different,” Richmond said in an emailed response. “Due to redistricting, my congressional district grew substantially. This additional cut, while assuming responsibility for additional constituents and territory, will not be easy. There is no part of my budget that I will not reassess in an effort to absorb the cuts.”

Google initiative comes to BR

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, announced that Google will bring its “Get Your Business Online” to downtown Baton Rouge on March 25.

Google’s GYBO initiative gives small businesses free online tools to create their own websites and provides training to entrepreneurs about the process. Participants also receive a unique website domain name without charge for one year.

The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 25 at the Turner Gallery in the Shaw Center for the Arts on Lafayette Street in Baton Rouge.

Those wishing to attend are encouraged to register at www.LouisianaGetOnline.com or to call (800) 986-6958.

Norquist group praises Brees

The Washington, D.C., anti-tax increase organization led by Grover Norquist is arguing that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is still the highest-paid NFL player.

The statement from Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform came after Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco agreed last week to a six-year, $120.6 million contract to make him the highest-paid NFL player.

The catch though, as argued by Americans for Tax Reform, is that Brees is still paid more in net dollars because Maryland and Baltimore County’s tax rates are higher than those in Louisiana.

Brees’ contract signed last year is estimated as $100 million over five years.

“After applying the marginal combined tax rate of 49.4 percent to the Saints QB’s contract salary, he (Brees) stands to make $470,000 more after tax pay than the newly crowned ‘highest paid player,’ ” the Americans for Tax Reform statement reads.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.