“It’s Like An Airplane”

Maybe you trust this man to make smart environmental policy? I wouldn’t:

Representative Anthony D. Weiner, Democrat of Brooklyn and Queens, drives a 2008 Chevrolet Impala, leased for $219 a month. Representative Michael R. McNulty, a Democrat from the Albany area, gets around in a 2007 Mercury Mariner hybrid, a sport utility vehicle, for $816 a month.

“It gets a little better than 25 miles a gallon,” Mr. McNulty said.

Charles B. Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is not so caught up in the question of gas mileage. He leases a 2004 Cadillac DeVille for $777.54 a month. The car is 17 feet long with a 300-horsepower engine and seats five comfortably.

“It’s one of the bigger Cadillacs,” Mr. Rangel, of Harlem, said cheerfully this week. “I’ve got a desk in it. It’s like an airplane.”

Modest or more luxurious, the cars are all paid for by taxpayers. The use of a car — gas included — is one of the benefits of being a member of the House of Representatives.

There are few restrictions on what kind of car the members can choose, and there is no limit on how much they can spend. But the benefit can be politically sensitive, given the growing concerns about automobile emissions and an economy that has left many people struggling to pay for the rapidly rising cost of gas, which was averaging $3.63 a gallon nationwide earlier this week.

Not only does the federal government pick up the cost of the lease and the gas, but also general maintenance, insurance, registration fees and excess mileage charges. The perk itself may draw heightened attention in the coming weeks as members of Congress consider proposals to address gas prices, including one to suspend temporarily the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon.

Congressional records show that about 125 members of the House make use of the benefit, which has been in place since at least the 1980s and is part of the allowance provided for their office operations. They include Representatives Charlie Melancon of Louisiana (2007 Chevy Tahoe), Bobby L. Rush of Illinois (2007 Lincoln Navigator) and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida (2006 Infiniti M45).

The Senate does not permit its members to lease cars with public money.

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