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Penny pinching? Or publicity stunt?

For all the reputation Congress has for its free-spending ways, each year many members return a portion of their office operating budget. Usually, they put out a press release and leave it at that. Or not -- some just do it quietly. 

But this year, with the deficit as dinner conversation in many U.S. household, many congressmen are boasting of their penny-pinching ways. Eight Republican freshmen, including Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, on Wednesday held a press conference boasting of their thrift. They told reporters they'd return a combined $1.45 million in leftover office funds to the House speaker. They asked that it go toward the $15 trillion national debt.

Normally, reports my colleague Sean Cockerham of the McClatchy Washington bureau, such unused money goes into a fund controlled by the House speaker and then only into the U.S. Treasury if it’s not spent for two years. The eight freshman who are  returning money signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner asking him to allow the money to just go straight into the Treasury.

And on Thursday, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, noted that he, too, had returned $250,000.  It represents about 20 percent of the congressman’s annual budget, his office said, and it covers expenses at his Washington, Miami-Dade and Collier County offices.

The award for thriftiest Floridian in Congress might well be U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden. He announced this week he's returning $453,000 from his congressional office budget.

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