Meanwhile, in Congress…

There are a lot of things in our country right now that need fixing. Our bridges are collapsing, our schools can’t keep their lights on, rural communities are still running dialup Internet and factory employees are being forced to wear diapers to work because their employers won’t let them take bathroom breaks.

And yet, through all of that, Republican Congressman Matt Salmon has zeroed in on the root of our problems: It is too easy for EPA workers to stretch.

Last week, Salmon introduced H.R. 5242, “To prohibit Executive agencies from using funds for yoga classes or instruction, and for other purposes.” This totally real bill is designed to curtail what has apparently been profligate spending on the part of the federal government on behalf of its already-overpaid employees — all at the taxpayers’ expense. As the Washington Examiner reported:

Salmon’s bill is a reaction to a report that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., released last year. His “waste report” noted that the Departments of State, Energy and Agriculture, as well as the EPA, all provide yoga classes to their workers.

Paul’s report said the State Department spends $15,000 a year on yoga classes in Washington, D.C., while the Department of Energy spent $11,000 a year for pilates classes in California.

Hold the god damn phone, folks. Fifteen thousand dollars for yoga classes at the State Department? That’s a whopping three one hundred thousandths of one percent of the State Department’s $46.2 billion budget request for 2015. It’s less than half of one entry-level employee’s salary — for an agency with over a thousand employees in Washington, D.C. alone.

But sure, $15k here, $15k there, sooner or later we’ve gotten rid of the national debt, right? El oh el.

Singling out one physical activity for the federal government to defund seems especially inane given that, in all likelihood, these yoga and pilates classes are covered under federal employees’ regular gym memberships. It’s not like the head of the EPA is spending gobs of money bringing a personal yoga instructor into their office. Gym memberships are a regular benefit offered by employers around the country, and gyms offer yoga and pilates classes. And some gym members take those classes.

Congressman Matt Salmon (R - Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

Congressman Matt Salmon (R – Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

But according to Salmon, that may in fact be the problem: The government is acting too much like an employer in the private sector. As he explained to the Examiner, “The government isn’t Google, so stop trying to be.” This, of course, would be a bit of a break from the Matt Salmon’s previous and familiar exhortations for the government to be run — How does the phrase we’re so fond of hearing go? — like a business. As he explained in 2013, “It is critical that the U.S. government treat its budget like any normal family or business would. Congress should be allocating our resources based on needs and benefits, rather than history.”

I guess he only meant the part about cutting departments, slashing wages and outsourcing labor.

Normal families and businesses invest in things like gym memberships — even yoga classes! — because they calculate that the benefits outweigh the costs. This is especially true of for-profit businesses, who wouldn’t bother subsidizing employees’ gym memberships if it didn’t result in employees being more productive at work and taking less time off for health-related issues. They more than make back the money they spend on gym memberships in the form of productive hours worked. As long as you think the EPA should be doing a good job, which Congressman Salmon doesn’t, then a couple thousand dollars a year for yoga seems perfectly justified — dare I say smart.

Salmon’s “Screw Yoga in Particular” Act is part of a broader “Shrink Our Spending” initiative targeting pockets of probably-useful spending that Salmon has deemed personally objectionable. Last month, he introduced a bill “to ban federal funding for studies on why people get stressed out when they talk about politics.” There is one such study currently being funded by the federal government. Congressman Salmon introduced an entire bill to block one study in particular — a study that received a grand total of $149,975 in federal funding from the National Science Foundation and actually sounds like a pretty worthwhile investment.

That being said, I guess I could save those researchers some time. I get stressed out when I talk about politics because people like Matt Salmon are making decisions about how the federal government spends its money.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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