Sounds pretty steep, right? But $230,000 is the amount the Senate barbershop received in bailout money back in 2012. That’s your money, taxpayer money. And believe it or not, even after getting a bailout, the Senate barbershop had a deficit of about $300,00 last year.
Located in the Russell Senate Office Building, Room 70, the barbershop is easy to get to from the Senate floor. So any member of the Senate can propose a bill, question a member of the DOJ, even stage a filibuster, then just take the elevator to the basement, hop on an underground Senate train and walk a few hundred feet. And there is something to be said for convenience. But at what cost? Nobody is suggesting closing the shop, which has a rich history and is the subject of many a fond memory or inside joke. Some even say it is a place that holds many secrets. But is it really necessary for regular people like you and me, (who can’t just trot down to our basements to get a bikini wax) to pay for it?
Opened in 1859, the Senate Barbershop served Senators, and Senators only. I guess they figured it would be too hard for these guys to walk, or ride their horses, into town to get a shave and a haircut. And until the early 1970s, the services were free. Today, the Senate barbershop is open to the public, although Senators do get priority, and the shop does charge for their services. Prices run about $20-25 for a haircut. Sounds pretty reasonable. And they had over 27,000 customers last year. So why are they running in the red? Could it have anything to do with the fact that barbers and stylists that work there are federal employees that make more than double of what their counterparts over at Capitol barber make? Capitol barber serves the men and women of The House of Representatives. Could it be that employees of the Senate barbershop are union members – with a generous 401(k) plan, health care and paid vacations? Maybe a combination of both.
Capitol barber is privatized, and does not rely on taxpayer assistance. The switch over came as a part of then-speaker Newt Gingrich’s privatization task force back in 1995. And Capitol barber is in the black, and has been for years. Exactly why Sergeant at Arms of the Senate Terrance Gainer, is trying to do he same for the Senate barbershop… privatize. Horrors. A palpable shudder just ran through the halls of the Senate. Poor Mr. Gainer, who has been Sergeant at Arms for seven years, and who has suggested this before. He does not have an easy road ahead of him.
If previous efforts to end taxpayer funding of the Senate barbershop are any guide, it will take much longer than one might expect. According to a report from the Office of the Sergeant at Arms, Senator Paul Douglas (D-Ill.) spoke out against the federally funded barbershop back in 1951, suggesting that taxpayers need not pick up the tab for their legislators’ haircuts.
According to Gainer’s plan, the Senate barbershop would be privatized over the course of the next few years while giving Senate barbershop employees the option of being bought out. He is also suggesting early retirement for all eligible employees, which has been accepted by a few of them. I guess time will tell what the future holds for the much-loved Senate barbershop. As the barber pole turns, and days go by, we can only hope that a place known for “making cuts” can do just that.
Written by Debby Wolf