Has Sensenbrenner Gone To The Dark Side On Staff Spending?


Has Sensenbrenner Gone To The Dark Side On Staff Spending?

CREATED Jul 11, 2011

I've known Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner for almost twenty years.  I know people who've known Congressman Sensenbrenner since he was a young man. 

Mention his name among people who know him well and one of the first words you hear is "frugal".  Actually, the word you hear is "cheap"!

So, I was somewhat surprised to see a report on Todays TMJ4 showing that Sensenbrenner (along with Herb Kohl and Tammy Baldwin) had been passing out big bonuses and raises to his staff.

According to the I-Team report, Sensenbrenner increased his payroll by 13% in the last three months of 2010.  Most of this increase was traceable to  $11,000 raises given to two staffers and a $9,000 raise given to a third.  Sensenbrenner says the three workers received promotions - which led to their raises.

Frankly, I think reasonable people can disagree about whether - in today's economic climate - politicians should be giving staffers big raises.  At the same time, if someone gets promoted in the real world, it is usually accompanied by a raise in pay.

Still, in deciding whether Sensenbrenner has suddenly abandoned a lifetime habit of throwing nickels around like manhole covers, it's important not to miss the forest for the trees.

Here's a breakdown of the total spending on staff by the Wisconsin Congressional delegation in 2010:

1. Tom Petri                                      $1,094,612

2. Gwen Moore                                 $ 1,029,055

3. Tammy Baldwin                           $ 1,017,564

4. Steve Kagen                                 $     912,102

5. Paul Ryan                                      $    911,496

6. Ron Kind                                        $    901,448

7. David Obey                                    $    883,278

8. Jim Sensenbrenner                    $    849,194

That's right, last year Sensenbrenner was dead last in total staff spending among the Wisconsin Congressional delegation - and almost $100,000 below the average.

What about the raises though?  

It's true that in the third quarter of 2010, Senbrenner spent $206,198 on salaries for his staff.  By the end of the first quarter of 2011, that number had increased to $230,540 (presumably the 13% increase that the report refers to).  Still, it doesn't seem that Sensenbrenner's staff is getting rich - at least in comparison to other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation.  

Here's the first quarter spending on staff salaries for Wisconsin's six holdover Congressional Representatives (Obey retired and Kagen lost his bid for re-election).

1. Gwen Moore               $265,220

2. Tammy Baldwin         $264,946

3. Tom Petri                     $251,739

4. Jim Sensenbrenner  $230,540

5. Ron Kind                     $230,333

6. Paul Ryan                    $215,702

So, even after the raises, Sensenbrenner is solidly in the bottom half of staff spending - and on track to again spend tens of thousands of dollars less than half of his holdover colleagues.

Again, reasonable people can disagree about whether five figure raises for Congressional staffers (promotions or not) are appropriate at this point in our economic history.  What isn't up for debate though is that Jim Sensenbrenner really hasn't suddenly stopped being "frugal" - or, if you prefer - "cheap".