Several polling organizations have defined Congress’ approval rating in recent years, and each time Congress is viewed “less favorably than dog poop, hemorrhoids, traffic jams, cockroaches, zombies, herpes, Brussels sprouts, the IRS and used car salesmen.” If you get my drift, please read on.
All 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate receive a $174,000 annual salary. As of a month ago, the average private-sector salary was $72,712. Industry folks get a few weeks of vacation, 10 holidays and do not work weekends. So, of the 365 days, they are off work about 130 days. But in actuality, a majority of salaried employees work more than minimum hours.
For comparison, the Senate was off 197 days and the House was off 227 days in 2019. Now let’s discuss healthcare. While the poverty level in the U.S. in 2019 was $25,750 in annual income, members of Congress get much of their health insurance subsidized – 72% of premiums by taxpayers through federal buying exchanges while making 6.75 times more than poor people on average and 2.4 times more than what salaried, private-sector employees make. And did I mention that members get free outpatient care at military facilities in and around Washington, D.C.?
Congress also has terrific retirement benefits. While average American Social Security recipients in 2019 received $17,532 annually (federal employees average $26,000), members who serve 20 years average about $59,000. But not to worry, members’ retirement annuities cannot exceed 80% of their final in-office salary. And remember that members are vested in the retirement system after five years in Congress with full pension at 62 years or older or after 25 years in office regardless of age. This pension system has been used since 1987, and Congress can vote itself a pay raise at any time.
There are a plethora of other goodies that the public never hears about. All members get free parking at Reagan airport, which cost taxpayers $740,000 last year. Members fly free and can book themselves on multiple flights without being charged multiple times. House members receive a $900,000 allowance for staff plus a $250,000 yearly budget for travel and office expenses. Senators receive about three times this, or $3.3 million. Also remember that members get a $3,000 annual tax deduction for living expenses. They also get at least $40,000 to furnish their home-state offices, and there is no restriction on how many such offices may be opened. Do not forget about “franking,” where members do mass mailings by Congress courtesy of the taxpayer.
One of the things that often goes unsaid pertains to “insider trading” in its varied forms. History shows that, based on historical stock-market transaction records (last studied 1985-2001), the financial performance by House members exceeded the public’s performance by 6% and among Senators by 12%. The use of privileged information for gain via this means is very hard to acquire, assess or prove. But as the old saying goes, if it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
As of May 2018, a Gallup poll showed that 75% of Americans think that the federal legislative branches of government are corrupt. Anticipating this message, Congress put forth proposed legislation Jan. 3, 2019 (H.R.1 titled For the People Act) and passed it March 8. The stated objectives are to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, propose statehood for the District of Columbia and prohibit gerrymandering of electoral districts. This is (to put it nicely) a hokey deal, and the Senate did nothing with it. The House called this an “anti-corruption bill,” but it is totally useless.
Readers of this column know that I tend to have a conservative or libertarian political outlook. Some may know that I was a lobbyist on the Hill representing the sole maker of nuclear warheads for the second half of the Cold War, but you should really wonder why such a presence would be needed. Honestly, it was to talk politicians out of wacko ideas, and I was always appalled by how many members were nutcases.
It is far past time to have competent and honest representation in our Congress doing useful public work. For those of you without a Senator of Representative meeting honest and worthy objectives, do your job: Throw them out of office.