Congressional Pay Raises Without Merit

by David T. Bruce

With the economic uncertainty of the past two years, we should not be surprised that our highest elected officials find the need to broach the topic of pay raises.  A recent blog highlighted the misgivings that at least two representatives have with their lot in life, citing the struggles that they are have making ends meet with their relatively miniscule salary. As Steve Southerland points out, health insurance is not free for representatives either.

This may be true; however, according to the premiums of Aetna’s HealthFund HMO, federal employees only pay $186.91 a month for HDHP (High Deductable Health Plan) family coverage.  The remaining cost of the premium – $560.72 – is covered by the government.  The average American who does not work for a company that offers health insurance, or a citizen who is unemployed, must shop around for their own insurance, paying premiums that are equally as expensive yet are not subsidized by the government.

In regards to salary, Mr. Southerland suggests that his annual salary is not enough, considering his personal sacrifices and risks associated with his job. Yet $80 an hour for 50 hours a week would probably have many of us willing to trade places, assuming such risk and sacrifice as necessary to secure such pay and benefits..

In regards to the risks of getting shot at, I suspect that those American who work in any mining industry at the wage of $18-$28 per hour realize a greater risk in their profession that that of an elected official.  In fact, many jobs exist that are far riskier than that of a representative or a senator.

Arguing back and forth, though, about who works harder, who gets paid less, and who has the riskiest job, leads us away from the point regarding raises for our elected federal representatives.

Everything is relative to the reality we choose to live in. The typical American lives within his or her means.  In other words, if we do not have the money to afford an expensive house, we do not buy an expensive house.  If for some reason, a twist of fate forces us to sell an expensive house for a house that is not quite so expensive, then that is what we do.

For many Americans over the past several years, foreclosure has been an undesirable yet often unavoidable consequence of the fiscal turn of events in our country.  The fact that some of our elected representatives in the House and the Senate find that voting themselves a pay raise is a viable option grossly demonstrates their pompous demeanor and a total detachment from their constituents who do not have the same luxury. I think I speak for everyone when I write that not one person exists who would not vote themselves a pay raise to avoid losing their home or living beneath the poverty line. We simply do not have that option available to us.

This is why, when a person opts to run for political office, a certain amount of altruism should exist. The idea behind holding a political office is to serve your country.  On the contrary, the majority of those currently holding political office behave as if they are owed a debt for their sacrifice.

We all have families, we all take risks, and we all must assume the consequences of said risks.  Should $174,000 annually not be enough to cover your cost of living as an elected official, then you face the same option as the rest of working-class America: you cut back.  You do without.

If you do not like your job or feel that the sacrifices outweigh the benefits, then you find a different job.  You can quit.  If you cannot find another job, then you can join the other 9 percent of Americans who do not have work or insurance.

Giving yourself a raise is not an option.  Your boss gives you a raise based on your performance.  Can you venture a guess as to who your bosses are and how we might measure your performance?

Big Oil Subsidies Squeeze the Middle Class

by David T. Bruce

oil_earthIn a recent Congressional debate, the majority of Republicans argued that the five largest oil companies were entitled to a $2 billion annual subsidy to offset the $35 billion they earned (?) in the first quarter of 2011.  One particular senator sarcastically stated that making money in America must now be unacceptable, specifically targeting the Democrats’ proposal to eliminate these subsidies.

According to a recent article in The Washington Times, wages in America are up 1.7%, whereas the rate of inflation is up 2%.  Statistically, households with the lowest income in the United States spend approximately twice as much on food, relatively speaking, as households with the highest income.  Obviously, the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel limits the spending power of the average American.  It is estimated that the tax cuts recently approved by Congress will be absorbed by the increased cost of gasoline.  Yes, apparently making money in America is indeed no longer acceptable . . . unless you live and work on Capitol Hill or unless you are a CEO or COO of the aforementioned oil companies.

Recent polls show that public opinion in favor of Congress is significantly low.  According to recent Gallup polls, Congress has achieved an approval rating as low as 13% over the past year.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps as a society, we should consider placing more emphasis on the state representatives we elect and less emphasis on the executive office that is often provided with speed bumps and road blocks by the opposing party anyway.  We must give careful consideration and close scrutiny to those people we elect at the state level, who are charged to represent the interest of their constituents.  Right now, many representatives seem to represent only the interests of the oil companies (and other major industries) and by extension their own individual interests, forsaking the interests of those that elected them to office. For example: the only three Democrats to side with the Republicans in the Oil Subsidy vote were from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska, all big oil states.

The greater majority of the voting public has not made a substantial living in years.  While our government bails out the banking industry and subsidizes the oil industry, that which is left of the middle class struggles daily to raise a family and support their communities, as they slowly merge with the lower class.  How can the majority of Republicans dare to compare the plight of the average American with that of the incomparable benefits that the corporate giants enjoy with the blessings of Congress?

In fairness to Congress, we as a society share a measure of responsibility in creating this dependence on fuel.  Many Americans insist on the value of SUVs, 4X4 pickup trucks, and similar gas-guzzling automotive apparatuses.  We are not sending the message that we care about fuel consumption, fuel waste, or the environment.  We continue to put money into the coffers of the oil industry instead of alternative energy sources.  We continue to pursue off-shore drilling instead of cultivating wind farms or solar power.  We can respond to the oil companies by supporting alternate energy options, and we can respond to our representatives by sending them home.  Maybe then they will understand what it really means to not make money in America.