CNN Radio News

Congressional bonuses in a time of cuts

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @LisaDCNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

Capitol Hill (CNN) – A CNN analysis of thousands of pages of Congressional expense reports shows that in the months leading up to the fiscal cliff (and potential, sharp budget cuts), nearly a quarter of the lawmakers in the House of Representatives gave their own office staff bonuses.

Click here to see the list of how much each member of Congress spent and which lawmakers gave their staff what appear to be bonuses.

That money is itemized as “Other Compensation” in the more than 2000-page report.

Only a handful of members of Congress gave us statements defending the bonuses last quarter.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-CA, wrote, “have a hard working, dedicated team… and I want to pay a salary that reflects their service.”

He said he only gives bonuses if there is “money left over” at the end of the year.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL, responded, "We have not had raises or bonuses in several years. The small compensation reflects an increased workload each person had to take on after our staff was downsized because of budgetary cuts."

Similarly, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-FL insisted that the bonuses allowed him to save money. “I believe performance-based pay is an important incentive in the workplace… Also, in the past year we’ve reduced our staff… The bonuses are to reward those remaining for taking on additional duties,” he said.

We went outside Congress to sort out whether the bonuses could be appropriate or not, whether it is something a business might do.

[2:33] “I’m not a big fan of anyone getting bonuses, when things aren’t going well…if we can’t balance a budget, we can’t even pass a budget, I don’t believe in people getting bonuses until things are right,” says Buck Hartzell, head of Investor Learning at Motley Fool.

At the Motley Fool, an investing and media company in Alexandria, Virginia, bonuses are part of the culture. Each employee can get several different bonuses depending on how they, their work group and the entire staff perform.

But Hartzell points out, that is only in successful times. At one point during the recession, there were no bonuses.

Listen to our story to hear how one small business owner looks at the Congressional bonuses and how she would handle a tight budget year.

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. And listen to CNN Soundwaves on our SoundCloud page.