It isn’t easy running up $14 trillion dollars in debt that we can’t pay off or, at least, we can’t seem to agree on how we will ever pay it off. But times are tough. We are in a recession or possibly heading for one. Twenty five million Americans are out of work if you count the ones still collecting unemployment benefits plus if you add the millions of Americans that are still out of work, having exhausted their benefits. How about the under-employed? Those folks working two jobs at low wages just to make ends meet. But our leaders – they want a raise!
On Capitol Hill, our elected representatives tap into a mountain of perks that most Fortune 500 companies couldn’t begin to rival. The base salary for a member of Congress is $174,000. The Speaker of the House, because of all his hard work and long hours, gets a measly $223,500. But all members enjoy access to a separate piggy bank known as their “allowance.” This funding generally goes toward maintaining their offices and building up their legislative workforce or entourage. In the House, representatives are allowed to spend more than $900,000 on salaries for up to 18 permanent employees. Then they get an additional $250,000 for office expenses, including travel, and additional funding know as “franking.” Franking is the term for the mass constituent mail sent out by members of Congress and paid for by the American taxpayer.
Now Senators get a much bigger allowance for their office expenses. According to a Congressional Report, the average allocation for fiscal 2010 was more than $3.3 million. Personnel money varies depending upon how big of a state a senator represents, but for starters, each senator is given a $500,000 budget to hire up to three legislative assistants. All members of Congress can sign up for the same health plan and life insurance policy available to other federal workers. In addition, members of Congress can sign up for a 401(k)-style thrift savings plan that is tax deferred in which members contributions are matched up to 5 percent. But wait, it gets better!
The members are eligible for a pension plan that is an immediate full pension at age 62 if they have served five years or more; they are eligible at age 50 if they have served 20 years; and they are eligible at any time after they have served 25 years. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary. As of January 1, 1984, all members must participate in Social Security. Since members were basically in both plans, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for members with Social Security as its foundation. Without being too sarcastic, the salary and benefits are not even comparable to any civilian position short of being a shortstop for the New York Yankees or the quarterback for the New England Patriots.
Is it time for a raise? Absolutely not! I hate to be the bearer of bad news but how about a cut in pay and benefits? With 46 million Americans on food stamps and almost 10% of our workforce on unemployment benefits, how can these people even bring up the subject of a raise in pay? I think that the majority of our elected representatives are out of touch with reality. There are currently 261 millionaires in our Congress. The wealthiest member of Congress is Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican from California, whose wealth is estimated at $303,500,000. How can they relate to the average working man or woman? They can’t!