Obama White House Buying Staffers Loyalties One Quiet Bonus at a Time

EXCLUSIVE: House quietly gives ‘bonuses’ to top aides

Says student-loan subsidies needed in hiring market

By Stephen Dinan (Contact)

Originally published 08:43 p.m., August 25, 2009, updated 04:18 a.m., August 26, 2009

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EXCLUSIVE:

A month after they voted to punish some corporate executives for taking hefty bonus payouts, members of the House of Representatives quietly gave their own staffers a new potential bonus by making even their top-earning aides eligible for taxpayer dollars to repay their student loans.

The change, which took effect in May, means House employees earning up to $168,411, or the top level, are now eligible for government-funded subsidies to help pay down their student loans.

House officials defend the change as a job-related benefit necessary to keep the government competitive in the hiring market – the same argument corporate chieftains used to defend their own pay scales.

“There’s still a tremendous demand for high-end Hill talent even in this current job market. Expanding eligibility for the benefit allows us to retain valued and seasoned personnel who might otherwise be lured away to more financially lucrative pursuits,” said Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee.

The committee, which has jurisdiction over internal House employment, salaries and expenses, directed House officials to make the change.

But taxpayer advocacy groups said that straightforward salary increases – not new perks and bonuses – are the best way to attract and retain talent. Offering bonuses to some of the best-paid Capitol staffers just feeds into popular resentment toward Washington, said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

“It’s another example of the imperial Congress and setting themselves aside from the rest of the country,” Mr. Schatz said. “It goes along with the congressional jets, the executive jets. It goes along with the travel. It fits in with all the concerns about spending generally in Washington.”

Although widely used in the federal work force, the job-related perk of paying off an employee’s college bills is rarely offered in the private sector, employment analysts say.

The move to boost the income cap was made just a month after the House voted 328-93 in March to slap a 90 percent tax on bonuses for executives from companies that took bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Senate never followed suit, and the bill didn’t become law. The salaries and dollar amounts involved in those bonuses were far higher than what’s at stake in the House program.

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