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3 Reasons to Cut Congressional Pay in Half

Avatar of David B. Grinberg
David B. Grinberg

The U.S. Congress has done it again.

On Friday the House of Representatives voted to reject a long overdue end to the two-year old federal pay freeze. In effect, Congress is punishing federal civil servants for serving the public.

It should be evident by now that federal employees have been castigated too much, for too long, by a Do-Nothing Congress which prides itself on a conspicuous record of legislative failure and absence of national leadership.

Now it’s time for members of Congress to look inward and endure some self-sacrifice by having their own individual pay and operating expenses cut in half and capped (tied to inflation). Congress deserves a dramatic pay cut for the following three reasons:

1) Unequivocal Record of Failure

In short, Congress is a badly broken legislative body plagued by partisan paralysis and political self-interest. This has sadly resulted in:

  • Legislative inaction and gridlock typical of second rate democracy.
  • Indifference to the plight of Americans and the U.S. economy.
  • Gutter politics and nasty name calling to boost popularity within the party.

Is it any wonder that a recent public opinion poll ranked “cockroaches” and “colonoscopies” as having a higher approval rating than the U.S. Congress – seriously!

Moreover, a national Gallup poll showed that public approval of Congress recently tied a near 40-year low of about 10% — the lowest in the history of Gallup polling.

Yet taxpayers keep funding exorbitant Congressional salaries and hefty annual operating expenses despite an unequivocal record of failure. It’s almost as if taxpayers are giving their money away.

2) Dereliction of Duty

As the government sequester now appears unavoidable it is imperative for Congress to likewise be parsimonious. How dare Congress risk causing widespread furloughs of federal employees in addition to the ongoing pay freeze — which is actually a pay cut since it does not account for basic annual cost of living increases.

Further, by triggering sequestration Congress will intentionally cause serious and needless harm to a fragile U.S. economy still emerging from the Great Recession.

Yet rather than do its job, this cowardly Congress has decided to skip town for an extended vacation. Congress has gone AWOL at the very time bi-partisan legislative action is most needed to avoid going over the so-called Fiscal Cliff. A government-wide sequester becomes effective on March 1 and, frankly, Congress doesn’t seem to give a damn, as the Washington Post reports.

This arguably represents an unprecedented dereliction of duty by Congress. Shame on them!

3) Exorbitant Salaries & Expenses

Hard working taxpayers should not have to fund about $1.2 million in individual salaries and political perks for members of Congress and thousands of staffers.

Today, most members of our national legislature earn about $174,000 per year (some get paid more for holding party leadership positions). Astoundingly, that base salary alone (minus operating costs) is triple the median household income, which has hovered around $50,000 since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Something here just doesn’t add up.

Additionally, Congressional staff can be paid up to nearly the same salary as the members for whom they work, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS). Each member of Congress receives a “Members Representational Allowance” (MRA) of close to one million dollars in addition to their base pay.

Thus, in effect, members of Congress are being paid about $1,200,000 each for not doing their jobs — at the expense of middle class America and the poor. This is a political tragedy and disgrace to America’s democractic form of government. Most members of Congress are already rich even without their pay and perks.

Another costly and antiquated Congressional perk is the “Franking” priviledge which “allows Members of Congress to transmit mail matter under their signature without postage,” according to CRS. This is wasteful spending in today’s high-tech online, digital and mobile world.

Therefore, the sky high operating budgets of Congressional offices and staff, the MRA, should likewise be cut in half and capped to an inflationary index. Half a million dollars annually should be more than enough for taxpayers to fund the individual operating expenses of Congressmen and women who have been derelict in their duties.

An impotent Congress that barely produces any substantive results — while holding the economy hostage for partisan political purposes — does not need up to 20 staff members each with multiple offices in Washington as well as their home districts. Some might even argue that a 50% pay cut isn’t nearly enough.

Stop Scapegoating Feds

Finally, Congress needs to stop making scapegoats of the federal workforce to divert attention from its own failings. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said in a statement after Friday’s vote to maintain the pay freeze on feds:

261 House members voted to deny a pay raise [half of 1%] to more than 2 million federal employees, whose salaries have been frozen since January 2010. This vote sends an extremely insulting and hostile message…we don’t value the work that you do, and we think you should continue to be picked on because we oppose the services you provide to the American people.”

It’s high time for the numerous narcissistic members of Congress to take a long look in the mirror. Citizens across this great nation are disgusted by what they see taking place on Capitol Hill, and with good reason.

Enough is enough already!

* Also check out:

Federal Salary: It’s About Principles, Not Pay

* NOTE: All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

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David B. Grinberg

According to today’s Washington Post column, The Fix: “The country has a confidence problem and it’s Congress’s fault”
“That conclusion, drawn by Republican pollster Bill McInturff, carries ill omens as lawmakers seem all but certain to let more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts go into effect at the end of the month and with fights over keeping the government funded and raising the debt ceiling looming…”
“What’s clear from all the data is that a federal government that lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis as its normal course of business is doing a great disservice to a country badly looking to find its footing again…”
“The warnings, from the debt ceiling fight through the ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis, are clear. But, political Washington has shown a remarkable inability to heed them in the past few years. If that doesn’t change in the next three months, the impact on the nation’s economy could be drastic.”

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David B. Grinberg

Thanks for nothing Congress!

Fed News Radio reports:

Furloughs pose pitfalls for managers, rank-and-file feds

“Talk of federal-employee furloughs has intensified as the clock winds down to March 1 — the date automatic, across-the-board spending cuts are set to kick in. But even if agencies are forced to go the furlough route, they will have to ensure the workforce reductions are implemented fairly or face a series of potential pitfalls.”

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Henry Brown

Would offer that the saying “you get what you pay for” is probably a pretty good way to describe the current situation…

If so many are disgusted by what they see going on in congress why was there only a net change of ~10 seats in the House of Representives?

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David B. Grinberg

Good question, Henry.

1) Public opinion polls have consistently showed that the approval rating for individual members of Congress is much higher than for Congress as a whole.
Why? First, because members of Congress “bring home the bacon” to their districts, sometimes via wasteful pork-barrel spending attached to major legislation, like the socalled “Bridge to No Where” in Alaska.
2) Second, the percentage of Americans who actually vote in our democracy is pretty low compared to the number of eligible voters — another sad story.This gives more power to national, state and local political parties to outspend opposition candidates into oblivion and rally political activists.

In my view, the entire political process is badly broken and in need of historic reform — like the Congress itself. But that’s another story for another day.

Again, thanks for the comment, Henry.

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Avatar Image Carol Kruse

A friend of mine suggested that, now that computers are relatively ubiquitous, we can just do away with Congress and every individual can vote on bills. I kinda’ like that idea!

I’ve maintained for years that Congress should have to work via the internet from their homes in their home districts…live daily among their neighbors, shop at the same stores, etc. Maybe gather in D.C. two or three days a year, for example, when Congress convenes after Christmas or summer recess. But perhaps eliminating them all together is a better idea?

I was shocked when the Tea Party gave a response to the State of the Union address — are we a 3-party system now?

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David B. Grinberg

Carol, thanks for the interesting comment.

I’m not sure if or how America can simply “do away with Congress” under the U.S. Constitution. I’d have to rsearch it, but perhaps there’s some process involving votes by the states and/or a legal ruling by the Supreme Court — although I doubt it. Neverthless, that would certainly fall under the category of ultra radical reform.

I like you idea about members of Congress spending more time in their home districts among constituents and less time in Washington, which can have a corrupting influence due powerul lobbies, etc.

I would note the the Founding Fathers original intent was for a weak central government with most powers delegated to the states. But that concept has flipped on its head in the age of the “Imperial Presidency.”

Perhaps the nation needs to follow more closely in then steps of California and other states, and even other countries, which have successfully implemented mass voter referendum initiatives so citizens are more directly involved in the political process and legislative outcomes.

If so, using the Internet would make sense for this purpose. However, one major hurdle would likely be cyber security — which is a huge IT problem these days, with computer systems of government agencies being hacked on what appears to be a regular basis.

Personally, I would settle for strict term limits and historic campaign reform — such as eliminating lobbyists and strictly limiting campaign contributions — to get money out of politics. Having publicly funded elections and equal air time might move us in the right direction. National voter referendums would be good too.

Thanks again for the insightful comments, Carol. It’s always good to think outside-the-box and consider all options, albeit within legal and Constitutional strictures.

DBG

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