March 7, 2011 4:58PM

Congressional Salary Windfalls: You Read It Here First

The Wall Street Journal reports Monday:

Departing members of the House of Representatives awarded millions of dollars in extra pay to aides as they closed down their offices, according to lawmakers’ spending records.

The 96 lawmakers paid their employees $6.7 million, or 31%, more in the fourth quarter of 2010 than they did, on average, in the first three quarters of the year.…

Because most of the departing members were Democrats, fourth‐​quarter salary increases in 2010 for Democratic staffers were the largest in the decade LegiStorm has been gathering such data.

Republican staffers enjoyed a similar boost when many of their employers left office at the end of 2006.

And that last point sounded especially familiar. In 2007, I wrote in The Hill:

The year‐​end spending spree is a hallowed Washington tradition. Bureaucrats fear nothing more than the budget cuts that result if they don’t spend all the funds they’ve been allocated. And Congress frequently asks the Government Accountability Office to investigate the extent of late‐​breaking spending requests. But it turns out that legislators engage in their own spending binges, especially when control of Congress is shifting to the other party.

At the end of 2006, after the Democrats had won control of Congress but before they had taken office, the outgoing Republican majority voted its committee staffers unusually generous raises — with some staffers receiving significant double‐​digit bonuses.

After going through some specific examples from 2006 similar to those the Wall Street Journal found for 2010, I concluded:

Members of Congress are free to pay their staffers whatever they choose, up to an annual ceiling, so there’s nothing illegal about year‐​end bonuses, even year‐​end, post‐​election, before‐​the‐​other‐​party‐​gets‐​in bonuses.

But this pattern illustrates a big difference between the private and public sectors. In the private sector, if your customers become dissatisfied with your product, you tend to make less money. In the public sector, you get a couple of months to double‐​dip before you lose control of the money. For participating in a Congress that voters booted out of office, these bonuses are a handsome parting gift.

Not for the first time, you read it here first!