Media Note: Freeps Costs Vermont Delegation $27,000 | Off Message

Media Note: Freeps Costs Vermont Delegation $27,000

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In a flashy front page scoop, the Burlington Free Press reported today that Vermont's three D.C. amigos "will follow President Obama's lead in giving some of [their] income to charity in response to federal spending cuts."

The damage? $8700 apiece for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who each make $174,000 a year, and $9670 for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who pulls in $193,400.

Here's how Gannett's Nicole Gaudiano, who covers the Vermont delegation for the Freeps, put it in the story, which ran with the headline, "Shared Sacrifice": 

The lawmakers, who announced their decisions in response to a Burlington Free Press query, say they will donate 5 percent of their congressional salaries to Vermont charities.

But here's the thing: It doesn't quite sound like the three "announced" anything — nor that they were "follow[ing] President Obama's lead." 

It sounds a little more like Gaudiano posed a question to the delegation and, not wanting to look like tone-deaf congress-critters, they then decided they were better off giving away the cash than suffering a few tough headlines.

In other words, the tail of the Freeps was wagging the dog of Bernie's beat-up old wallet.

Of course, the delegation's spokesmen won't tell you that — and why should they? Asked if his boss had been planning to donate the money before the Freeps asked, Welch spokesman Scott Coriell said in a written response, "He'd been considering it since the President made his announcement on April 4th."

Wrote Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, "Though Patrick and Marcelle [Leahy] were away with family when the President announced his gesture, they were aware of it and already had been considering a similar step."

Considering? I bet! They were considering whether some nosy reporter would cost them a cool ten grand. And I bet they would've considered not donating the money if nobody ever asked.

So Gaudiano and the Freeps did the people of Vermont a great public service, right? They did what the press should be doing: asked a tough question and forced powerful politicians to feel the pain of those suffering the consequences of their own idiocy and inaction.

Sure. Except for one thing: As Gaudiano herself notes, neither Sanders nor Welch voted for the August 2011 legislation establishing the architecture of the sequester in the first place. So it's really quite hard to argue that the consequences of sequestration are their fault.

Leahy, on the other hand, did vote for the bipartisan bill. 

Why didn't Sanders and Welch just make that point — that it's silly for them to lose their pay because some other bozos backed a bill they didn't? Well, it might be a logical argument, but it doesn't make for great newspaper copy.

I know, I know. Cry me a river. These guys are making way more than pretty much anyone else in Vermont. And yes, it sounds like I'm shilling for my old boss (Disclosure: I was Welch's spokesman for two and a half years.). 

But it's just hard to see what public good is served by shaming our public servants into docking their pay when at least two of our three congressional delegates voted against the thing that everybody's all up-in-arms about today.

So here's my counter-proposal: If you're worked up about the sequester and you think somebody should pay with their hide, why not demand that Leahy take that $9670, divide it by two and cut $4835 checks to both Sanders and Welch? You know, reward the guys you agree with and punish the guy you don't.

Now that sounds a little more like "shared sacrifice" to me.

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