Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frequently Assumed Falsehoods: Getting Rich in Congress

It seems, lately, congressional pay and perks have been some of the most persistent complaints contained in right-wing emails.

Take this one that my father recently sent:

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971...before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

I'm asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

1. Term Limits.

12 years only, one of the possible options below..

A. Two Six-year Senate terms

B. Six Two-year House terms

C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

2. No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.

The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete

You are one of my 20+. Please keep it going.
The funny thing?  I received this email on January 9th.

One day after Rep. Giffords was shot.

Great timing, dad.

But this email does repeat a lot of viral untruths... so I think it's time I took a break and started breaking this crap down.

Let's start with the most obvious:

I'm a congressman!  Gimme my money!
Very well.  You're doing a job, you are paid a salary.  Fair enough.

This year, congressional salary is $174,000.

You don't need to take all of it.  Many congresspeople don't.  But that's what's on the table.

Sure, that is really good money.  The average american earns around $49,777.

But, then, you have to realize:  We want a rate of pay that will encourage talented folks to compete for one of the 535 seats.  We'd like those seats to be filled by the top 535 legislators in America.  (I said we'd like to.)

Do you think that corporate CEOs would make good legislators?  The CEOs of the S&P 500 had a mean salary of 7.5 million dollars a year.  A congressional seat would be a huge paycut.

How about our country's highest paid lawyers?  They know the law, after all.  I can't figure out what the top 500 lawyers earn - but the highest paid 10% (making them the top 111,697) earn at least $145,600.  The 10th top paid lawyer earned about 12 million dollars in 2007.  So it's in between those figures - probably closer to the $12 million.  Again, this is looking like a pay cut.  And probably, a big one.

Oh, and let's not forget.  You're having a million reporters trying to dig up your personal dirt.  And there's the constant threats by random nutbags.

Hmm... maybe those radical free-market proponents might think about whether raising the salary might attract better congresspeople.  I'm not sold.  But I'm willing to listen.

Okay, salary's good.  When's my next pay raise?
Well, congress has voted against receiving pay raises in the last 2 years.

I don't want to be one of those folks saying "during these economic times...", so I'll let you come to the obvious conclusion of why a salary increase would be a bad political move.

But, our emailer wants more.  He wants a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that a congressman wouldn't vote for his or her own pay raise.

It's a good thing that our emailer identified 27 amendments.  The trouble is - if he read #27, he'd see it's already there.

Yes, congress can vote a pay increase into effect.  But they have to face reelection before they can get it.  And if they're out of line - they can easily be voted out.

So, the writer already has what he wanted - a set salary, with set COLA increases.

He doesn't need a "constitutional convention" for a "congressional reform act".

Come to think of it - you don't need a constitutional convention for a congressional act.  Last I checked, an "act" is a law, not a constitutional amendment.

Oh well.  We'll tackle more of the "frequently assumed falsehoods" in this email soon.