Politics

04.09.14

These Guys Need a Raise?

A proposed pay raise to help members of Congress maintain residences both in their home districts and in Washington, D.C. got laughed off of Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Nearly everybody in Congress thinks it, but only retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has the guts to say it: After five years of self-imposed pay freezes, many members of Congress say they need a raise.

In a city as pricey as Washington, new members often speak privately of the strain of maintaining two residences: one in their congressional districts, where their families usually live, and another in D.C.

To avoid the double hit, more than a fifth of the freshman class of 2010 elected to sleep in their House offices and shower in the on-site gym rather than fork over the steep rents or mortgages that the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood commands.

Moran's bill would not affect his own finances because he is leaving at the end of the year.  But in an effort to pay it forward, literally, he introduced an amendment to the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill Wednesday that would give members an optional $25 per diem allowance to go toward their housing expenses. This is a fraction of what 45 state legislatures give their members when in session, but enough to add up to $2,800 a year for members of Congress.

It's hard to think that anyone who makes $174,000 for working about three days a week really needs a raise, but Moran had a larger point behind his pitch.

"I think there is a legitimate fear that the House is increasingly going ot be populated by two types of members--the type that come here for a few years before multiplying their salary in the private sector as a result of their service, and the other who are suffienctly wealthy and for whom our salary is a rounding error in their net worth."

Moran's point is a good one, but the truth is that Congress is already dominated by have's and want-to-have's.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than half of congressmen and senators are millionaires, with a median net worth at $1,008,767. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is the richest, with a net worth of $464 million, while some, like Moran, are not wealthy at all. His net worth is less than $15,000.

Knowing the proposal amounts to political suicide for anyone who's not retiring, the Appropriations Committee defeated his amendment by voice vote Wednesday, but only after members audibly laughed when Moran said he planned to offer his idea up for a vote.

Not surprisingly, the per diem proposal has been a flop since Moran floated it a few weeks ago.  He said his office has been inundated with thousands of phone calls, "almost all of them using obscene language, none of them supportive."

But why would Americans support helping members of Congress when Congress does so little to help Americans?  The 113th Congress has been among the least productive in history.  A typical work week, when Congress is in session, begins Tuesday morning and ends Thursday afternoon. In between it is filled with show votes, political ploys and message events.

Americans understand this and have decided that what Congress really deserves is a 12% approval rating, not a stipend for their second mortgages.

If Moran really wants to help current and future members of Congress, he'll skip the per diem and give them some advice:  Do more.  Pass a budget.  Improve the economy.  Learn to work together and then we'll talk about a raise.

Until then, don't forget to turn off the lights in the House gym after your shower.  All that energy costs money.