Congress Claims They Are ‘Financially Struggling’, and Refuses to Give Back Salary


Members of Congress won’t follow President Obama’s lead by giving back 5% of their salary because it’s tough to manage a two-city life on $174,000.00, according to the analysis of David Hawkings’ of Roll Call.

But beyond sticking by the salary freeze they imposed on themselves four years ago, don’t look for any legislative groundswell to reduce congressional paychecks across the board. So many members have such safe seats that they see no need to make such a move, plus many of them are having trouble managing their two-city lives on $174,000 a year.

Eight of the President’s cabinet are also donating back, and a handful of lawmakers followed suit (the non-binding voice vote for show in the Senate doesn’t count, but thank Lindsey Graham for the show). While Hawkings doesn’t have anyone on the record (as if their silence doesn’t speak volumes), this is hardly the first time we’ve heard members of congress bemoaning their salaries.

After talk of a Republican imposed government shutdown in 2011, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin encouraged others to follow his lead in donating his earnings back to the Treasury. The Daily Caller asked Congressional members if they would chip in: House Republican Renee Ellmers (N.C.) wasn’t having it, “I need my paycheck.” Other members were non-plussed from both sides of the aisle, though Republican Pete King (N.Y.) took a stand for salaries that American workers would applaud if only his party weren’t gunning for theirs, “I’m going to take it. I’ll be working. You shouldn’t play games with salaries.”

The Florida Capital News reported (courtesy of DCC, as FCN link is not working, second source PolitiFact) Republican Steve Southerland complaining to a Tallahassee retirement community in 2011:

He said his $174,000 salary is not so much, considering the hours a member of the House puts in, and that he had to sever ties with his family business in Panama City. Southerland also said there are no instant pensions or free health insurance, as some of his constituents often ask him about in Congress. ..He added that ‘if you took the hours that I work and divided it into my pay,’ the $174,000 salary would not seem so high.”

Republican Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, who said it was a “struggle” to pay his mortgage and student loans with his congressional salary. “At this point, I’m not living high on the hog.”

Do tell.

While Democrats aren’t the folks pushing for the austerity measures or trying to kill the minimum wage for those people, it’s still a facepalm moment when they talk about how they can’t give up their paycheck. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) told MSNBC last year, “I have to tell you, I live paycheck to paycheck, like most Americans. It’s very difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I can give up my paycheck,’ because the reality is, I have financial obligations that I have to meet on a month-to-month basis that doesn’t make it possible for me.” Sanchez argued that she is not a millionaire like many in Congress. True enough. Neither are most Americans.

Congressional members make a $174,000 annual salary, but they also have very generous health care plans and pensions, not to mention the perks (travel, mail, etc.). According to a 2011 report by Taxpayers’ Protection Alliance and Our Generation, they make 3.4 times the salary of the average American worker, and their benefits bring the total package to $285,000. Members of Congress are among the top 5% pay tier in America. They are among the highest paid legislators in the world.

In December of 2011, Jason Easley pointed out that even though House Republicans are going to be in session for only 126 days in 2013, they are still demanding their full $174,000 salary. “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced that the House will only be in session for 126 days in 2013. The schedule is a continuation of the two weeks off one week on the schedule that the Republicans implemented when they gained the majority after the 2010 election.” So, they want the same amount of money for less work, and their reduced schedule brings DC to a halt. This how we reward failure? Meanwhile, the wealth gap between congress and voters is growing.

The offer to return some money to the Treasury should have originated in the Republican-led House, the source of the “budget” concerns, the source of the sequester as the solution, and therefor the source of random cuts in pay to federal workers. Their alleged “concerns” are so extensive that Republicans were willing to gamble our credit rating and throw our economy to the wolves in order to get the cuts they say are necessary, regardless of the fact that non-partisan economists disagree.

Republican members of the House are directly responsible for the debt ceiling debacle that led to the sequester (another Republican idea, presented over the years as the holy grail of the budget by Paul Ryan and other Republicans). They advocated for these cuts. Obama didn’t want them, and even Speaker John Boehner has admitted that.

A check of House Republican leadership’s (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan) websites revealed not a single statement or mention of the president’s decision to return 5% of his pay.

So the question becomes, if it’s good enough for federal employees and it’s good enough for the average American, why isn’t it good enough for members of congress?

I can think of no better way to burst the bubble of entitlement and privilege that protects our lawmakers from the realities of the rest of the country than to join in on the fun. Make due with less.

While embarrassed Republicans scoff away the President’s gesture as a “gimmick”, we should be asking why they aren’t following his lead, and walking their talk. The study concluded, “For example, a (Congressional) salary cut of $74,000 (which would bring their salary to $100,000) would save taxpayers $39 million per year and reassure Americans that sacrifices made during this economic downturn are being shared by everybody, especially Members of Congress.”

Before cutting the minimum wage, cutting federal employees’ salaries, taking food away from babies, getting rid of benefits for veterans and cutting seniors’ Social Security, lawmakers who are fear-mongering about the deficit and the debt should put an end to their own Congressional entitlement. They can start with their own salaries and benefits.

We are all making “sacrifices” in order to live within our reduced means. Shouldn’t they?

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