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Taxpayers foot bill for GOP leaders coffee, catering

12:44 AM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
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Melissa Blasius
Gannett Investigations

DENVER -- Members of Congress and their staffs are a hungry and thirsty bunch, and taxpayers are picking up the tab for some meals and java jolts.

The Washington Guardian, a government watchdog journalism group, obtained government reports showing Congressional office spending for the last three months of 2012. It includes eye-popping numbers for food and drinks, at the same time leaders were using tough rhetoric about cutbacks needed under sequestration.

"House leaders spent thousands of dollars at Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Joe Ragan's Coffee Supplies, Dunkin' Donuts, PF Chang's, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Taylor Gourmet, just to name a few," Washington Guardian Reporter Sara Carter said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) ordered $2,200 in coffee supplies during the month of November. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) office racked up the $2,500 bill for Qdoba.

Members of Congress also spend money on water for both their Capitol Hill offices and offices in their home states. For example, the seven House members from Colorado spent $1,700 combined on water over three months. If you extrapolate that number, it could cost as much as $500,000 a year to provide bottled water, water coolers or filtration services for all 435 members of the House of Representatives.

"We do have water fountains right?" asked high school economics teacher Ken Benson.

Congressional office managers have several reasons for the water expenses. One explained that staffers like to offer bottles of water to guests during meetings. Another cited concerns about lead in the water supply on Capitol Hill.

University of Denver Political Science Professor Peter Hanson says as Congress forces federal agencies to slash budgets through sequestration, voters want to know what's happening with members' salaries; how are they spending money on Capitol Hill itself? Hanson says voters also may be asking legislators "shouldn't they be tightening their own belts as they are imposing cuts elsewhere?"

Members of Congress say must cut eight percent from their own office budgets due to sequestration, which started this month. Congressional staffs say they are trying to find savings without significantly impacting services to their constituents. Some of the changes will include less travel for staff members between district offices and Washington, D.C.

Emails seeking comment from Speaker Boehner and Majority Whip McCarthy's offices received no response.

A check of expenditure reports for Democratic U.S. House leaders showed they often used a union caterer called CapitolHost. Their overall food and beverage expenses were significantly less than their Republican counterparts.

Read the full Washington Guardian article here. And to look up spending data for all U.S. Representatives click here.

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