Is it Time to Kill Congressional Pay and Pensions?

Home Forums Human Resources Is it Time to Kill Congressional Pay and Pensions?

This topic contains 20 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Margaret Schneider Ross 9 years, 2 months ago.

  • Author
  • #147692

    Doris Tirone

    In today’s edition of FedSmith, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) opines that it’s time to end his pension plan and that of his elected colleagues. “We in Congress must … demonstrate to the American people that <we> … understand <we> are servants of the people and not a political elite exempt from the challenges felt by most Americans today… Ending the congressional retirement plan may be little more than … symbolic … but it will be viewed as important by the American people as a step forward changing the culture of Washington, D.C.

    Now comes Rep. McKeon (R-CA), introducing legislation that would cut the federal workforce by 10% to pay for mandated defense cuts in FY 2013.

    So I asked myself, how will either of these proposals stimulate economic growth, create new business investments and, most importantly, how will either of them lend themself to job creation?

    This may be a bit naive, yes I admit it, but I think it would be helpful to have a little more meat on the bones in current legislation. Wouldn’t it be great if life would imitate art even a little right now … like the story that was portrayed in the 1993 film “Dave“? Hokey plot aside, Dave understands what this country needs and is able to get a Jobs bill on track with enough political clout behind it that “everyone works on Monday” … and then some! It just seems to me that all of us (especially our elected officials AND their political supporters) should take a hint!

    Or maybe we should just remember history (especially if we’re going to repeat it). Remember The New Deal? It was the largest and most ambitious project of its time, employing millions of Americans to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and large projects to support the arts, drama, media, and literacy. Over 100 federal offices were created during the 1930’s and this helped pull our country out of one of the deepest economic depressions we’ve ever known.

    Is there something like this we can do right now? Or does “symbolic” legislation and a step toward changing the D.C. culture help?

  • #147732

    Okay, it’s 5pm and our office holiday party ended not-too-long ago, but I’m a little unclear on the Dave thing…Does this mean our acting president should have an affair, have a stroke and allow a naiive but good hearted temp agency manager take over as president? Or that we want said president to single handedly re-write the entire federal budget to make sure that the real President’s wife’s charities are given priority?

    Clearly, I say these things in jest – but I was a little confused…

    I think that symbolic acts do matter, but agree that they don’t solve any real problems.

    Ah well. See you on Monday. Or not. Depending on our esteemed legislative branch’s ability to clarify what the term “temporary” means.

  • #147730

    Robert Eckhardt

    How about a rational change in congressional pay. Perhaps we ought to make congressional pay equal to the 75th percentile of US wage earners, effectively dropping their salaries from $174,000 to $80,000 saving $94,000 per congressman or $50 million yearly. Not only would this save the Government money, it would shift congressional income into a range where they had the ability to understand how “normal” people live. Currently their salaries are in the 94th percentile.

    Since the pension calculations are based on salary I think that fixing the salary problem would fix the pension problem.

  • #147728

    Doris Tirone

    I like this idea alot. This is the kind of creative thinking I was alluding to! So, how do we spark the interest (and political clout) to get these types of ideas in front of Congress and the American people?

  • #147726

    Robert Eckhardt

    If we look at similar job salaries

    Median Mayoral salary = $59,000 $68,000 in DC

    Median state legislative salaries = $57,619 though those are considered too low.

    $80k seems reasonable considering they can legally engage in insider trading

  • #147724

    Robert Martin

    Excellent idea. +1

  • #147722

    Adam Arthur

    I like Robert Eckhardt ‘s idea as a start but it should go farther. People who really just want to serve and pass legislation that will help us get out of this mess and not try to create a career in the congress, (a limited congress was the original intent to begin with), would be a good thing.

    Legislators can’t really help us unless they release innovation. The congress has never saved the American people from anything but attacks on the mainland, (and that is what they should keep doing). The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back to work. But the New Deal didn’t restore employment. In fact, there was even less work on average during the New Deal than before FDR took office. Total hours worked per adult, including government employees, were 18% below their 1929 level between 1930-32, but were 23% lower on average during the New Deal (1933-39). Private hours worked were even lower after FDR took office, averaging 27% below their 1929 level, compared to 18% lower between in 1930-32. Even comparing hours worked at the end of 1930s to those at the beginning of FDR’s presidency doesn’t paint a picture of recovery. Total hours worked per adult in 1939 remained about 21% below their 1929 level, compared to a decline of 27% in 1933. And it wasn’t just work that remained scarce during the New Deal. Per capita consumption did not recover at all, remaining 25% below its trend level throughout the New Deal, and per-capita nonresidential investment averaged about 60% below trend. The Great Depression clearly continued long after FDR took office.

    Why wasn’t the Depression followed by a vigorous recovery, like every other cycle? It should have been. The economic fundamentals that drive all expansions were very favorable during the New Deal. Productivity grew very rapidly after 1933, the price level was stable, real interest rates were low, and liquidity was plentiful – sound similar to now? On the basis of just productivity growth, employment and investment should have been back to normal levels by 1936. Similarly, Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas and Leonard Rapping calculated on the basis of just expansionary Federal Reserve policy that the economy should have been back to normal by 1935. So why didn’t it work?>>>The New Deal.

  • #147720


    Why do we want to create more jobs? What else do we need? cars, homes, TVs? Is our economical system built to create jobs just to keep people busy or create jobs as a function of a very productive society? A very smart man said to me “the only reason why business people create jobs is because they can’t or don’t want to do it” Saying this, if the “job creators” could hire robots “outsourcing” to do all the jobs, then we be all out of a job.

  • #147718

    Adam Arthur

    Why? You’re kidding, right? If you have a family and are responsible for keeping them clothed, fed and sheltered, you have to have a job. There are roughly 7.6 million fewer jobs than there were at the beginning of 2008 – that means 7.6 million fewer opportunities. If you don’t have a job, you are more than likely looking for one or have given up completely, (which seems to be the case for a lot of Americans). So, we need to restore or create jobs to restore our economy. That’s why.

  • #147716

    Doris Tirone

    To believe this, Frank, you must be certain of where you’ll find and how you’ll afford sustanance and lodging for the rest of your life. Congratulations! But, in case you haven’t heard, some of your neighbors are not as secure as you are. Jobs creation would offer those people the opportunity to retain work and yield a wage or salary to them which, in turn, would allow them to strive for that security you currently enjoy. And need I add, great poverty takes away from those like you, Frank, who currently have enough to survive. Without economic wealth, even your source of income will dry up. Like it or not, we’re in this together and together is the only way we’re going to pull out of this economic crisis.

  • #147714

    Doris Tirone

    Thank you, Adam!

  • #147712


    We need job creation not campaign rhetoric and brinksmanship.

  • #147710

    Doris Tirone

    Well said!!!

  • #147708

    Denise Petet

    I think a wonderful gesture would be our congressfolks to take a wage cut, just like the rest of us. How about getting their insurance plan in line with what the average American has? Or retirement. All too often it can be said that they don’t live in the same world with the rest of us, maybe it’s time they visited how the other 3/4th lives? Let them have a finite amount of money each month, let them face the reality the rest of us face.

    It could be asked how can they adequately speak for the ‘average american’ when they don’t live like the ‘average american’ but instead they live like the ‘entitled few’? I think a lot of these folks need to be introduced to the concept of ‘enough’.

    now, beyond the symbollic gesture, yeah, we need jobs. Not just $7 flipping burger jobs, but living wage jobs. We need something like the New Deal that gets people to work and gets things done. Most of the infrastructure that’s crumbling around us was built by the New Deal, and it’s definitely showing its age (although there is no tougher concrete than WPA poured sidewalks, still going strong decades later)

  • #147706

    I am all for Congress living like the rest of us. Pay into Social Security, reduce their pay to what the average American makes, get the same retirement as other government workers, but not fully funded after only two years in office. Seems to me they have voted themselves quite a tidy living on top of what they get for selling us down the river.

    Continuously cutting our educational systems is dumbing down Americans. Do we really want uneducated young people coming up the ranks to run our government? Oh, wait! that’s right, all their children will go to schools and be better educated so they will be the ones going into the ruling class……the class system. Turning us into a third world country so we have a more competitive workforce. Get rid of unions, child labor laws, OSHA, and the EPA and our industries could compete. We can make America more competitive with other nations who do not value their citizens either.

    My husband’s favorite saying is, “How can 1% convince 99% to vote for something that is not in their best interest? Yet, they seem to be able to do exactly that.” My take on what is happening is that they keep rattling sabers over issues that aren’t really that important while they are stealing the treasury blind and stuffing huge wads of money into their pockets from special interests.

    The original concept of our Congress was someone who went to do their civic duty and help govern. They didn’t make so much that it became a career. It should go back to that. People who have their neighbors best interest in mind, making them safe and secure and knowing that our way of life will endure along with our freedom.

  • #147704

    Denise Petet

    And don’t forget all the perks politicians kids get too. free tuition and the like. Laws and rules that don’t apply to them but apply to all the rest of us. Even things as simple as being immune from parking tickets are wrong.

    IMHO, this is why we need term limits. nothing is more dangerous than a career politician, because they’ll do anything ot keep the cushy job. If two terms is good enough for the prez, it’s good enough for the rest of them. Sure, some will still be bought and paid for by their sponsors, but at least the various lobbyists and corporations will have to start over every few years. Fifty year long reigns of power are ridiculous.

    As to how do 1% convince the other 99% to do something stupid….advertising, spin doctoring, manipulations and carefully crafted half truths. Lobbyist backed ad campaigns, bought and paid for ‘news reporters’. they lie, they make people panic and they get their way. It’s just like during the health care debates, when it was brought up how there would be ‘death panels’, deciding who lives and dies….well what do you think insurance companies do now? You think they don’t sit around a table or plug numbers into a computer to come up with whether or not it’s ‘worth’ covering a treatment? They emphasized how often people had to wait to get procedures but glossed over the fact that in other countries people don’t go bankrupt and lose their homes because someone gets sick. (not gonna derail this into that debate, but they are good examples of spin doctoring.)

    He who mounts the best ad campaign ‘wins’. And the best ad campaign is usually the best funded, so, usually, he who has the most money wins. Whether he’s right or better or not.

    And if anyone gets too out of line, well manufacture a good old sex scandal and you get them out of office and bring in someone else.

  • #147702


    @Denise, I agree. Congress is completely clueless about the “average american”. Pretty soon average will mean living at the poverty level. These people do not care about people who struggle every day and have no identification with them. They only care about their next election and the perks and money they can amass while in office. That is why they cannot get the work done that they were elected to do. Their sense of entitlement is pretty offensive in this time of high unemployment, foreclosures and the like. They were not elected for life but they act as if they own their seats. People in Congress have connections and perks the rest of us can only imagine. They take them for granted and as their due. The middle class is under major assault in this country and Congress does not seem to care. Term limits are clearly required.

  • #147700

    Peter Sperry

    It would help if people commenting about Congress took the tiem to educate themselves enough to actually know what they are talking about.

    1. Congress is a plural not a singular institution. There are 435 House members and 100 Senators. Applying generalities about attitudes, lefes experience etc to a highly diverse group of individuals tends to quickly become meaningless.

    2. Members of Congress are paid about the same as an SES or SL career fed and far less than the top salaries at someplace like FDIC, NIH or the VA hospital system. Staff salaries go down rapidly from there. The average Congressional staffer makes less than a typical GS-11.

    3. Members of Congress have paid into SS since 1986 and there are no free tuition schools for their children. They are under basicly the same retirement program as the rest of the federal government.

    4. The total compensation package for members of Congress, including leadership, is about comprable to what a mid grade executive would get at a large corporation and far less than what a senior executive would get.

    5. Most of them do not actually stay more than about 10 years. Look at the seniority tables for the current Congress and you will see that well over 1/2 have been elected since 2000.

    The bipartisan cooperation that many people think was so wonderful about past elected officials primarily represented continued agreement to avoid actually dealing with problems by kicking the can down the road to the next generation. The current gridlock and fierce brinksmanship come from the fact we have run out of road and this generation must actually come up with realistic solutions (often very painful ones) rather pass the problems on. Members of Congress get elected based on the usually unrealistic expectations of voters in complete denial about the real world. They come to Washington expecting to change the world to fit what their constituents want and farily quickly realize that simply is not possible in this country or any other.

    Constituents, including public employees, expect their elected officials to wave some magic wand and make everything work the way they beleive it should. Sorry, life doesn’t work that way. Start with the fact that disagreementw within the public about how the world should work are deep, feirce and subject to sudden rapid changes. Add the fact that each of the 435 House members and 100 Senators represent constituents with often very conflicting views and legislating becomes off the charts difficult.

    I would challange any public employee who thinks Congress has an easy job and is ineffective because they are lazy or out of touch to take 2-3 weeks leave and go work in the DC office of a Congressman or Senator. Contact the Chief of Staff of your local rep to set it up. An even better experience would be to see if you can get detailed to the hill for 3-6 months as part of a development program. You may not change your opinion of the institutuion and its members but at least you will no longer be speaking from ignorence.

  • #147698

    Denise Petet

    I disagree with you, be it from my ignorance or not. What I see is hard left vs hard right, both fighting to ‘win’ and neither willing to work with the other side to find any compromise.It’s an ‘all or nothing’ proposition for them. I see things that should take days taking weeks and months, because they fight to win, as in ‘things must be my way and only my way and frak the world if you don’t see that my way is right’. Compromise has been replaced with capitulation.

    I see individuals spending their days fighting for a cause or corporate sponsor or lobbyist or to push their personal beliefs upon others instead of remembering that their job is supposed to be to speak for MOST people – can’t ever speak for all – and it should be to find a solution that does the most good for the most…..not just to keep this corporation or this special interest group happy.

    I see a wholly dysfunctional group spending weeks/months bickering with each other, that when they campaign can’t/won’t deal with ‘this is how i’ll fix things’ rather ‘see, this is what he’s doing wrong, i won’t be as bad as him, elect me’. I see people getting into office with no real plan rather a list of campaign promises that they know they can never attain, but they sure were good buzz words on the commercials. they make promises based on what will get them the most poll points and votes, know they’re impossible, pay lip service to it then go on about currying favor and raking in those ‘contributions’ from people seeking to buy their vote for whatever agenda they have.

    Take their bickering, I’m right, you’re wrong, attitude, transfer it to average people in an average work place, toss in the inability to meet deadlines and get things done and you’d have a bunch of ex employees. I think that’s part of the anger. More and more, average employees are being told to ‘do more with less’, be held accountable to tighter and tighter rules and regs in an effort to squeeze out every penny of profit, being laid off for no other real reason than ‘we didn’t hit our profit estimate and must keep the share holders happy’. Many of us go to work on a daily basis afraid for our jobs…and then we have these folks that thrive in dysfunction and get to keep messing up and accomplishing nothing and it’s ok and acceptable and just how things are.

    And yes, they do get elected time and time again…because they have the money to make the campaign ads that spin and twist events. And the winner of any election is quite often ‘s/he who spends the most money bashing their opponent’, which means they have to fund raise, which means they have to accept massive campaign contributions, which means they walk into office owing millions of dollars of favors.

    And the cycle repeats.

  • #147696

    Doris Tirone

    GovLoop is a great forum where each of us is able to learn more about our Federal government and its operating systems. Thanks for bringing to light these great points, Peter! I also appreciate your challenge in that it’s a good practice for us to step outside ourselves ever now and then and look at problems through a different set of eyes.

    Even still, although Congress may not be “completely clueless” about what’s going on with the ‘average American’, I think Denise, Janina, and Susan made good points about the benefit that comes from being more in touch with what life is like for the majority of Americans right now. When an elected official doesn’t live the life (or perhaps doesn’t personally know someone very well who is living the tough life right now),it’s a far greater challenge to empathize with them and thereby more effectively use their positions to implant needed change.

    Collaboration is Washington doesn’t have to be political; it just is; and for some reason, one’s ongoing livelihood in the political arena has evolved into knowing best how to negotiate the “Washingtonian Shuffle”. Sometimes this tactic helps the greater good and other times it helps the greater pocketbooks. It’s a crap shoot at best, but as voters we should not be so naive as to believe that our elected officials are there solely to represent our needs.

    I agree in the end, that John Q. Public is the ultimate culprit here … I personally know people who would rather jump onto what seems like the most popular bandwagon at election time rather than put forth much effort to learn about each candidate’s platform before casting their ballots.

    As for your payroll statistics , when we talk about Congressional Staffers, its true they receive marginal salaries at best. Staffers, however, aren’t the issue here. Elected and Appointed Officials are the true movers and shakers! And, having seem them operate, up close & personal I have to say … it’s often like watching the Capone Crew make backroom deals with the Mogilevich Gang! Perhaps “normalizing” Congressional salaries (as previously suggested) and topping them out after a prescribed number of years would attract potential candidates who prefer to leave a positive legacy for their fellow Americans rather than a depletion of the public coffers.

  • #147694


    @Denise, I agree with you on all counts. Well said.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.