Senate Hair Care shop cost U.S. taxpayers $51 million since 1997

For the past 15 years, the Senate Hair Care barbershop has continuously run an annual budget deficit of approximately $340,000. This subsidy continues to grow and has cost American taxpayers more than $51 million since 1997.

At a time when the United States federal government proves to have a difficult time balancing the budget, members of the Senate are paying hefty prices for haircuts, all on the taxpayers’ dime, according to a new report.

The taxpayer-funded salon consists of 11 full-time employees who earn between $54,000 and $82,000 per year and receive pension and healthcare benefits. On top of that, the salon workers get to produce newsletters, audio and video by professionals to promote themselves.

Despite offering $20 haircuts to senators, staff members and even members of the general public, the salon, which is located in the basement of the Russell Office Building, ran a $401,000 deficit in 2012. The barbershop’s subsidy was included in the $4.3 billion appropriated by Congress to run the legislative branch last year.

A report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that in fiscal year 2008 the “Hair Care Services” posted $319,951 in lost revenues.

Even though experts concur that the subsidy is just a small piece of a much larger pie, it is a representative view that Washington has a terrible time managing a budget and hands out other people’s money quite lavishly.

“While maintaining congressional barbershops or salons, dining rooms, gymnasiums and many other conveniences close at hand seems reasonable — for these things allow members to save time and focus on their jobs — this smacks of elitism,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “In spite of what members may think, most Americans enjoy nothing like the perquisites they do on a daily basis. No matter how much it costs, it looks shocking when juxtaposed with the financial and fiscal difficulties our nation is now encountering.”

The House barbershop, a private business, offers haircuts for $15. It maintains three employees, including one part-time worker, pays between $2,000 and $3,000 per year in rent for space and the two barbers earn $22,000 and $30,000 annually with no benefits.

The private business is generating profits, while the subsidized salon is in the red.

“I think it is the ultimate hypocrisy for any legislator in Congress who is arguing for cuts from the social side of the budget to not include their own budget,” said Wright State University political science adjunct professor Paul Leonard, a former Dayton mayor, state legislator and lieutenant governor. “They need to lead by example and make some serious cuts.”

A quick search on Yelp.com will show that there are several barbershops and salons that offer haircuts for less than $20. For instance, Le Mulet D’Or on Irving Street charges $5 for haircuts.

In total, there are dozens of barbershops and hair salons in the Washington, D.C. area. Why couldn’t the elected officials go to any one of those establishments and let the taxpayers keep that $51 million? Perhaps Nobel laureate Milton Friedman’s description of how to spend money is the answer.

In this instance the third and fourth ways would suffice:

“The third way is spending other people’s money on yourself. Think of the rich man’s girlfriend who buys herself the nicest dresses in the store on his credit card without even looking at the tag. She wants quality, but value is irrelevant since she sacrifices nothing.

“The fourth way is when people spend other people’s money on other people. In this case, the buyer has no rational interest in either value or quality. Government always and necessarily spends money in this fourth way. This guarantees inefficient public spending because the spenders have no vested interest in efficiently allocating those funds.”

Will the Senate barbershop privatize? Last year, Terrance Gainer, Senate Sergeant at Arms, flirted with the idea because it is costing the taxpayers’ money every year.

“If you put aside [the employees’] livelihoods, it’s costing the government money, and that includes taxpayers like you and me. That’s the way it is,” said Gainer. “I just have not pulled the trigger. That’s on me.”

There are more than 100,000 barbershops in the U.S. and 91 percent of them are profitable with profit on receipts hitting 38 percent. Yet, Washington, which wants to dictate rules, regulations and taxes on private enterprises, cannot run a simple operation that has been the staple of mom and pop shops for generations.

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