ZERO SALARY FOR CONGRESS

Richard Reeves

Why Not Link Pols' Pay Level to Ours?

MIAMI--Most Americans don't like Moammar Kadafi or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. But that might change if they knew their paychecks. The leaders of Libya and Iran get $9,516 and $3,000 a year annually, respectively.

Obama collects $5,505,509--a whopping $22,022 per day.

Who's the real out-of-touch dictator?

As the U.S. enters its third year of economic collapse, real unemployment has surged past levels that triggered revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet neither the President nor members of Congress seem worried. They're not even discussing the possibility of a bailout for the one-third of the workforce that is in effect structurally unemployed. Do you wonder why?

Maybe they don't know what's going on. As the saying goes, it's a recession when you've gotten laid off. For members of Congress, who are raking it in, these are boom times.

Congressmen and Senators are insulated by huge salaries--$174,000 and up--that put them out of touch with and unaware of the problems of the 97 percent of Americans who earn less. Out of 535 members of Congress, 261 are millionaires.

It can't be easy for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to feel our pain. According to campaign disclosure documents filed in 2010, her net worth is somewhere between $46 million and $108.1 million--and she's only the 10th richest member of Congress. The top honor goes to Representative Darrell Issa, also from the Golden State but a Republican. Estimates of Issa's net worth range between $156.1 million and $451.1 million.

Years ago the SEC floated the idea of a maximum wage for the CEOs of publicly traded corporations. If their pay was capped at, say, 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee, it wouldn't be long before the whole pay scale went up.

The SEC pay cap didn't go anywhere. But there's the germ of a smart--and fair--idea there, one that could help Congressmen feel what it's like to be an ordinary American during a time of poverty and mass layoffs.

Our elected representatives set the minimum wage, work standards, healthcare benefits, union organizing rules and thousands of regulations that determine the salaries and working conditions for tens of millions of American workers. As things stand now, the president and members of Congress have no personal incentive to improve those things for us. After all, they're all set. They're rich.

Paul Abrams writes: "Many Republicans ran for office declaring they would run the government 'like a business'...

If they are serious, however, there is one way [Congress] can operate like a business. Cut their base pay and provide large incentive bonuses should the economy hit certain goals." A nice thought, but why not follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion?

It is high time to set a Maximum Wage for Congress, the president and other high-ranking elected representatives. The Maximum Wage for Congress should be set at the lowest pay received by an American citizen.

As long as one American citizen is homeless and unemployed, the Maximum Wage would be zero.

Similarly public officials ought to receive a Maximum Benefit set at the lowest/worst level received by an American citizen. If one U.S. citizen receives no healthcare benefits, so it would go for members of Congress. If one U.S. citizen does not have free access to a gym, members of Congress would lose theirs.

I have a hunch that our lives would get better in the blink of an eye.

Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps it's really true that America somehow can't afford socialized healthcare (even though there's always plenty of cash for wars). If that's the case, personal incentives won't convince Congress.

Still, that's OK. It's only fair that our leaders be forced to tough it out as much as we do.

We're all familiar with the arguments for paying six-figure salaries to politicians:

They have to maintain two homes, one in D.C. and one in their home district. It reduces the temptations of corruption. They should focus on their jobs, not how to pay their kids' college tuition. People who are not wealthy ought to be able to afford to serve. The best and brightest won't want the job if the pay is terrible.

To which I say:

Live modestly. Couchsurf. If you take a bribe, you'll be jailed--so don't. Everyone worries about bills; shouldn't Congressmen? The current salary structure has resulted in a Congress full of millionaires. As for attracting the best and brightest--look at the fools we've got now.

Besides, there is no reason why the president and his congressional cronies shouldn't be able to keep their current wonderful salaries and perks under a Maximum Wage. All they'd have to do is create an economy that shared those bounteous treats with everyone else.

(Ted Rall is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto." His website is tedrall.com.)

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