Even as deep federal budget cuts loomed at the end of last year, members of Congress from both parties paid taxpayer-funded bonuses to their staffs.

Overall, House members spent about $21.5 million more on their office payrolls for the fourth quarter of 2010, when bonuses are traditionally paid, than they spent for the average of the three previous quarters, according to LegiStorm, a Washington group that tracks congressional pay.

Defeated and retiring lawmakers paid an average bonus of about $4,000. Returning lawmakers paid an average $2,300, the group found.

The money came out of the average $1.5 million allocated to each office for expenses including salaries, travel and bottled water purchases — money that, if unspent at the end of the year, goes back to the Treasury. Some lawmakers have boasted of sending leftover funds from their office budgets to the Treasury to show their frugal ways.

Spokeswomen for Matsui and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) said that even with the bonuses, many of their staff members earned less than the average House salaries for their positions. Sanchez’s legislative director, for example, earned $66,305 last year, even with a bonus, less than the House average of $89,674 a year for the same job.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said that while it was important for lawmakers to attract and retain top talent, “they have to be responsible stewards of the country’s checkbook. And while all the congressional staff bonuses don’t add up to a lot in the context of the federal budget, lawmakers have to keep in mind that many of their constituents are without salaries — much less bonuses — these days.”

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