One of the perks of being a member of Congress is access to a “free” mail system. Senators and representatives can send information to constituents about legislation, congressional votes or other government-related matters and “frank” the envelope, with the taxpayer picking up the stamp. (It’s not really free because you and I pay for it.)
The franking system isn’t for personal mail. If you’re a member of Congress and want to drop Aunt Gertrude a note to ask how her gall bladder surgery went, you must pay for the stamp yourself.
Now some members of Congress are complaining because the House Franking Commission has told members that they can’t use free postage to send holiday greetings to their constituents. The griping about this is bipartisan. As The Hill newspaper reported, “On Monday, Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) circulated a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to lawmakers claiming the Franking Commission should not be enforcing ‘political correctness.’”
But it’s not about “political correctness,” nor is it another manifestation of the Religious Right’s imaginary “War on Christmas.” It’s all about the proper use of taxpayer money.
It isn’t just holiday greetings that don’t qualify for the franking privilege. Members of Congress are also forbidden from using taxpayer-funded mail for sending things like birthday cards, messages of condolences and congratulatory missives. The policy dates to 1974.
The right-wing media has its Christmas stockings twisted in knots, asserting that the Franking Commission is targeting Christmas because it allows an incidental holiday greeting in a mailing otherwise devoted to congressional issues.
But anyone who takes a minute to look at this issue can see what the Commission is trying to do: prevent members of Congress from sticking the taxpayer for the costs of mailing their holiday cards.
Of course, nothing prevents a member of Congress from digging into his or her own pocket and buying some stamps to mail holiday greetings. Members of the House make $174,000 a year, so I think they can afford it. The franking policy merely bans them from using taxpayer-subsidized postage to mail things to people that are not directly related to the business of government.
Many members of the House know that this latest manufactured controversy is silly – and they understand that that body has more important work to do. (It seems I read something about a payroll tax….)
I’m glad Reps. Walsh and Ross like Christmas and that they want to share holiday greetings with lots of people. If they really love it, they’ll pay for it themselves.