In the midst of an expensive war, spiraling deficits, hurricane disaster expenses, rising energy prices, and ongoing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, Congress had the courage Friday to extend themselves a $3,100 annual pay raise, bringing the salary for a U.S. Congressperson to $165,200 a year. I don’t know about you, but I am glad to see that our elected officials have their priorities in good order. After all, if we don’t keep increasing the wages paid to lawmakers, how can they ever get all those tax breaks they are passing out?

Seriously though, who do these people think they are? As an average hard working American citizen, I can’t say that many of the people in my neighborhood make $165,000 a year. Neither do the people I work with or the parents of my daughter’s schoolmates. In fact, aside from business leaders and CEO’s that I come across from time to time, I don’t really have among my group of peers anyone who brings home that kind of cash.

$165,200 a year. That doesn’t include the other benefits afforded our elected representatives in Congress. They also have medical care under FEHBP, which covers up to 75% of the premiums and all but about 15% of major medical costs. Of course, the uncovered portion is deducted from the congresspersons pay, but since it all originates from the tax receipts anyhow, congress people aren’t really paying their share at all. A similar situation occurs with the FERS retirement plan that covers Congress. Granted, you’re not really vested until you’ve served several terms, but hit that marker, and you’re looking at a pretty sweet deal.

$165,200 a year. That also doesn’t include the professional perks of being chosen to represent the people of your district. A major biggie is the practice known as ‘franking’ or the free use of the U.S. Postal Service. What amounts to free political advertising is often used by incumbents around election time, basically forcing opponents to spend a fortune competing with this kind of advertising. These costs are ultimately borne by the taxpayer in the form of increased postal costs down the road. Other professional freebies include a fully paid office staff, usually in multiple locations, again at taxpayer expense. All this adds up to millions each year.

$165,200 a year. That seems just about high enough to take advantage of the continuing tax cuts too. Those in addition to exemptions they have already created for themselves. While the bulk of America is struggling with stagnant incomes and rising costs, our honest, elected representatives are helping themselves to a bigger piece of the pie.

Although the Republican Party controls the Congress, this disgusting show of avarice is a bipartisan effort, one of the only ones you’ll find lately. And while the total increase in salary costs is just around $1.35 million, a mere drop in the federal budget, the sheer audacity of the act is what is most troubling. It is hard to believe that this raise is necessary for our officials to keep up with the cost of living. It is harder to argue that the raise is deserved for exceptional work. The current salary is miles above that of the average working person in this country, and that’s without all the goodies thrown in.
So despite all the rhetoric and name calling and political posturing, the fact that Congress managed to calm down long enough to give themselves a raise before heading back to the playground of politics should speak volumes about the real priorities of the current crop of politicians. Apparently it is okay to slash military pay and equip soldiers on the cheap. And it is also fine to slash taxes for the richest Americans while the middle class slowly fades away as jobs are exported. Better to turn a blind eye to the hundreds of American companies that all share a building in the Cayman Islands as their corporate headquarters and avoid their share of taxes while enjoying profits in the billions of dollars. Cut funding for social programs, education, even veterans services; no one will really notice. Deficits? Fugiddaboudit! As long as Congress gets their extra cash, all is right in the world. Right?

Think about it for a minute. Think about whether the people representing you are really worth 3 or 4 or 5 times as much as you are. Look at the policies that have come from our halls of government. Look at the high costs of health care and the declining quality of our educational system. Been to the gas pump lately? How about that first winter heating bill? I bet you barely get a ‘cost of living’ raise this year. But even if you got the 3-5% that supposedly makes that even, your annual total was probably just breaking even to begin with. I don’t know about you, but at $165,000 a year, it doesn’t seem like we’re getting our money’s worth. If we’re going to be stuck paying this much, why don’t we at least get some people who have integrity and are willing to break out of the party mold. We need people with fresh ideas who aren’t beholden to the system.

So…anybody looking for a good paying job?

(Some information used to support this article can be found here:  Salary information is taken from an AP report printed 11-19-05.)