America needs to rally. Jobs are scarce, incomes are falling, and prosperity seems to be slipping away. Congress could help, but instead of bold new bipartisan ideas, the nation’s legislators have done little lately except argue. Here’s why Congress is so out-of-touch.
About one percent of all Americans are millionaires, but roughly 46 percent of those serving in Congress are. There’s nothing wrong with being rich. But there is a problem when the people creating tax and economic policy fail to understand the financial stress a typical family faces.
Every year, members of Congress get an automatic cost-of-living increase in their pay, which is now $174,000 per year—about 3.4 times as much as the average worker earns. For the last two years, Congress has voted to forego its annual raise. But even flat pay would be a luxury to millions who have endured pay cuts, been relegated to part-time status or lost their jobs.
Members of Congress are eligible for two types of retirement plans and a retirement healthcare plan that in nearly every way are more generous than benefits typically offered to private-sector workers. One research group estimates that fringe benefits alone are worth about $82,000 per year to a federal legislator.
In addition to generous pay and gilded benefits, members of Congress enjoy a long list of conveniences and other perks, including free parking at their workplace on Capitol Hill, and at priority lots at Washington, D.C.’s two airports. They’re special, you see.
Congress has temporarily banned these pet spending projects, which evade ordinary budgeting procedures and often amount to home-district favors for donors or supporters. But some lawmakers want them back. The test will come in 2013, when the next Congress will either extend the ban or revoke it and start delivering overdue favors.
Some of those Congressional speeches broadcast on cable are given before an empty chamber in the Capitol, simply because politicians know they might get on TV. Expanded TV coverage of Congress has been a welcome bit of sunshine, but it also encourages posturing and sensationalism.
In the private sector, competition punishes the obsolete and rewards those who deliver. Congress, however, holds a monopoly on legislating, so it still operates by ancient procedures and dallies indefinitely on urgent matters. There’s no measure of effectiveness for the body as a whole, and some members insist that gridlock—a euphemism for accomplishing nothing—is in the nation’s interest.
Members of Congress sometimes reveal a dangerous degree of ignorance on vitally important issues they have considerable power to regulate. This year, for instance, the science journal Nature said a House committee had “entered the intellectual wilderness” on climate science, and The Economist called Republican debt-ceiling negotiators “economically illiterate.”
For every member of Congress, there are about 22 registered lobbyists who donate money, throw fundraisers and manipulate legislation to the benefit of corporations and interest groups. Some of the most powerful lobbyists are former members of Congress, who form a “shadow Congress” more influential than pressure from voters.
Journalists, bloggers, and pundits jump on every argumentative word in Washington, while underreporting key issues likeunemployment and poverty that matter more to real people. This makes politicians even more narcissistic and combative, since they know they’ll generate coverage if they say something controversial.
- 112th Congress Set To Become Least Productive in Decades (tv.msnbc.com)
- Congress sends Obama bill to raise debt ceiling (cnsnews.com)
- Rule of the Corporatists (lewrockwell.com)
- How Congress is not like America (in one infographic) (washingtonpost.com)
- Congress sends Obama ‘must do’ bill to raise debt ceiling (capitolhillblue.com)