Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Should Congressional Salaries be means-tested? Why should a person worth 50 million dollars receive a government check for public service?

Can you imagine a job where you get to set your own salary and benefits using somebody else’s money? All the employer knows about your job performance is what you tell them in press releases and self-serving speeches. Not one dime of your earnings is in any way dependent on your performance or outcomes. And your employer is even willing to borrow from China to make the payroll.
It’s good work if you can get it! There are only 535 such jobs in the entire country. Wyoming has been allocated only three of those jobs.
As those three join the other 532 in deciding whether elderly folks will have Medicaid or children at Head Start will have a place to go to school, you should look at what they pocket. It starts with their salary. A member of Congress receives $174,000 dollars a year. That is 2 ½ times the median income of Wyoming families and more than 90% of the earnings of those who vote (or not). I don’t know what raises you’ve seen in the last decade but members of Congress have used your money to give themselves a 30% pay increase. Here is the chart that shows how they have hiked their pay.

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Salary is only part of the story. The benefits are eye opening. Members of Congress participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program along with federal workers. However, members of Congress receive additional medical benefits beyond those available to regular federal employees.

For an annual payment of $503, (.003 of their salary) members receive routine care from the Office of the Attending Physician in the Capitol including physicals and other examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists.

In addition, current members receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics. Outpatient care is free if it's performed at facilities such as Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia. Retiring members continue receiving health care for a contribution much smaller than you and I are required to make under COBRA or other plans.
And the Congressional trough is a pretty good place to be when it’s time to retire. In addition to Social Security, they receive a hefty pension. According to the Congressional Research Service, the average annual pension for a retired member of Congress after serving only FIVE years was $35,952.  Members and their staffs receive a larger retirement benefit than other federal employees and become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service. They contribute only 1.3 percent with the bulk of the retirement benefit's cost picked up by the employer, i.e. you.
On top of all that some members get free housing by turning their plush DC office into a condominium of sorts!
Now what’s really curious about this enhanced salary and benefit package is that nearly all of the Members of Congress pocketing these public dollars are already millionaires. It was reported last week that Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is the 7th wealthiest member of the US House with a net worth of almost 50 million dollars.
I have an idea. In that same budget where she and her colleagues propose to end Medicare and severely cut social programs in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy…how about a provision to means test congressional salaries? Programs for the poor are limited by one's income, why not programs for wealthy public servants. Why should a person worth 50 million dollars receive a government check for public service?
As the Bible says, “To whom much has been given much is expected.” During a time when Congress is deciding who else and how much of a sacrifice Americans must make, you’d think they could set an example. To whom much has been give, at least a little bit more could be expected during these tough times.

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