Symposium 2015: Should members of the Congress be allowed to gain financially from their positions? What should we do about this, if anything?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-No member of Congress should be allowed to gain financially from their positions.  The problem with federal legislators is that many come to their elected positions already wealthy from previous jobs either as attorneys, doctors, dentists, former state legislators, political appointees, business owners, or other high ranking positions and professions, which have afforded them, not only substantial salaries, but opportunities for outside investment and other political advantages before they even enter office at the federal level.   Many are able to finance their own campaigns to run for the federal House and Senate, and gain more in campaign funds within their campaigns, as contributors are oftentimes friends and political allies who are willing to give more to an already financed campaign.   Many in Congress are millionaires when they take office and remain so in and after their term(s) in office.

Under the Constitution, Article I, Section 6, Congress has been able to establish its own pay.  Much has changed since the founding of the nation and the ratification of the Constitution, and the original founders of the nation would be flabbergasted at the salary amounts and perks provided to past and current Congresses.   From 1789, when Congressional salaries were only $1500, the Congress has raised its pay levels over 20 times in the period from 1789 to 1968.  In 2009, the current salary level was set at $174,000.  A steady and large government salary, considerably above the average American’s salary, has allowed Congress to work outside of their federal positions, maintain businesses, investments, and other funds while serving in Congress.

Once Congressmen and women are elected and attain status at the federal level, they gain all the perks that a federal office holder enjoys for their tenure in office, which includes a salary of $174,000 a year along with over $900,000 a year for office expenses and employees that work for them.  In addition, they receive allowances of over $200,000 for travel, business expenses related to congressional duties, and other expenses that include free postage privileges (franking) and other perks.  They also receive large and substantial federal employee health insurance policies and federal pension programs.   Retirement can be taken at the age of 62 for five or more years of service.  The amount received depends on years of service and the highest three years of salary received.  While in office, members of Congress have access to the right connections and information that enables them to increase their holdings and wealth, and later these same connections and information allow Congressmen and women to profit once they leave office.

Upon leaving office, whether through retirement or election turnover, Congressmen and women have made their time in Congress worth their while as they leave with the connections they came with and their newly acquired contacts from Washington, D.C.    Many have previously had, or have acquired, holdings in real estate, spousal assets, portfolios that include retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and bank accounts, plus many own businesses and law practices with substantial assets.  A number of former officeholders go on to highly lucrative careers as lobbyists, financial and investment advisors, banking executives, law firm administrators, and  real estate developers where they are able to utilize their former congressional connections to further their financial holdings and millionaire status.

As far as everyday citizens doing anything about Congress gaining financially from their positions, there have been a number of calls for term limits and recall elections, but those moves are not totally consistent across the board with state and local laws and have yet to be enacted nationwide.  Citizens should also demand complete revamping of the election process concerning campaign financing for representatives and senators.  Ordinary citizens should be able to participate in the elective process without raising millions of dollars to take part in the process. Campaigns should not only be community based and financed, but those running should be evaluated by the requirements of character, service and ability, not the amount of money raised or how wealthy an individual candidate is.  If a Congressional retiree is drawing a federal pension and other benefits, and is gaining millions as well from an outside position or newly acquired appointment, he or she should have to relinquish a portion (or all) of the pension or benefits attached to those former positions.  In addition, no political liaisons should be allowed to influence hiring of former Congressional members to high level positions in the private sector.

With government being an out-of-control big business and less concerned and involved in serving its citizens, those seeking office must be committed to service rather than money making ventures.  Those involved in it must be committed to reversing that process.   Public outcry will have to be strong enough for any restrictions on Congress to hold water, and the public must educate itself on what can be done to oppose unnecessary spending and financial gain for those in service to the government.  Nothing will be done without strong opposition to stop the perks, political connections, and huge amounts of money changing hands with those in and outside of Congress.  A  restoration of common sense,  coupled with the founding  principles,  along with emphasis on character rather than money-hungry  unaffordable, high salaried politicians with huge investment portfolios will have to be part of any plan for overhauling and limiting members of Congress.

 

Owatanna, MN Correspondent-Over the past century, it seems that money has replaced common sense as the primary driver of legislation and policy in Congress. Because of that, we’ve seen wealthy individuals, large corporations, and well-funded special interest groups dictate the majority of laws that have been passed. Whether those laws are beneficial to all Americans is debatable, but members of Congress invariably say that whatever bill for which they voted in favor is ultimately “what’s good for the American people.”

Judging by the social ailments that still plague us such as drug abuse, crime, gang violence, poverty, a declining education system, and crumbling infrastructure, there seems to be a disconnect between perception and reality by Congress. Add in the fact that in the past thirty or so years, wealth disparity between the richest one percent and the rest of us has soared to unprecedented levels, and it seems clear that feeding at the public trough by politicians must end.

The quick and dirty solution is to abolish lobbying of members of Congress by special interest groups. Let lobbyists remain free to call or send letters or emails stating their case, but in no way allow them to give gifts, donate to election campaigns, or provide any financial incentives to either the politician or his or her constituents.

The next best solution is to institute term limits for Congress so members don’t become ensconced in Washington. This would prevent long-term relationships developing between lobbyists and politicians and would hinder the good old boy network to a degree.

A more radical and perhaps unconventional response would be to prohibit former members of Congress from going to work for any lobbying firms or for any corporation that has received significant government funds in the recent past. More and more it seems politicians view serving their country in office as a mere stepping-stone to a high-paying job in a corporation they personally helped via beneficial legislation while in Congress.

Taking away all financial incentives is the only way to return to having statesmen for lawmakers, rather than greedy, self-serving politicians.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent- Let’s play this one out here. You get a job with a pretty sweet paycheck and you get paid regardless of whether you accomplish anything or not. Do you have any incentive to try and work together with your co-workers, to compromise, to make things better? Heck no you don’t! You’re getting paid regardless! If you didn’t catch the reference I’m speaking about Congress. I do not think you will find any red-blooded American who believes Congress should be paid the way they are, unless they are in Congress.

Here is what we need; people who WANT to change things, people who want to effect this country and not just draw a paycheck. How do we get that? Let’s say Kevin works at your local car parts store. He’s fed up with the way things are and decides to run for office and wins. Kevin goes to Washington and gets paid the same salary he was paid at his job at the car parts store and a small sign-on bonus so his standard of living doesn’t change. Meanwhile the car parts store gets a small tax break for having an employee in Washington; and they agree to have the same (or similar) job, pending the fact Kevin can still perform the same job duties, at the same pay waiting for Kevin once his term is up. So Kevin doesn’t have to worry about finding another job when he’s done in Washington. Guess what, Kevin isn’t there for the money, he’s making the same money he was; Kevin is there because he wants to influence change! The flip side is the salary Kevin makes is a FRACTION of what we currently pay people regardless of whether they accomplish anything or not. So even if we pay Kevin’s travel expenses, we are still coming out paying less…for someone who actually WANTS to be there. Problem solved.

Cartwright-No, politicians should not be allowed to profit from public service, but the reality is that they do.  The statistics on the wealth in the Congress is staggering.  The median net worth is over $1 million.  You have people in the Congress worth $400-$500 million dollars, and you have only a handful who are of very modest net worth.  The reality is that the Congress is full of a bunch of high net worth individuals making decisions that benefit themselves more than anyone.  They’re out of touch with every day Americans, and they can’t relate to every day Americans from their ivory towers in the insulated world of Washington, D.C.

I’m sure the people in the Congress are all a bunch of honest, hardworking, compassionate, decent people who have the best interests of their constituents and the country at heart.  And did I mention they’re probably as honest as the day is long?  They just happen to be wealthy from their previous careers as lawyers for the most part.  And their increase in net worth while they are in the Congress is just coincidence; it’s just dumb luck because their holdings are all in blind trusts and being managed by professional money managers.  They just happen to be rich already, and their money is really working for them.  Their increase in net worth has nothing to do with their public service.

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

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