The PJ Tatler

Dem Rep: Members of Congress Aren't Paid Enough to Live Decently

Virginia Representative Jim Moran (thank God, no relation) is retiring from Congress after this term. But before he settles down with his ill gotten gains, he decided to broach the subject of congressional pay and complain how there wasn’t enough of it.

In an interview with Roll Call, Moran said that the congressional salary of $174,000 a year just didn’t cut it, and that some congressmen were suffering the indignities that such a niggardly sum imposed upon them.

He says that some members sleep in their offices or are forced to live in tiny apartments while they’re working in Washington because they can’t afford anything else. Members must maintain a residence in their home district, as well as live in DC, which means, Moran claims, that it’s hard to stretch that $174,000 so that a member can live “decently.”

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told CQ Roll Call. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

The senior appropriator pointed out that some members have taken to living out of their offices to save money, while others have “small little apartment units” that make it impossible to spend the time they should with their families.

Most state legislatures provide their members with a per diem allowance, Moran argues, so the federal government should do the same.

The Legislative Branch appropriations bill introduced by Republicans on Wednesday aims to show the chamber’s commitment to austerity by holding spending at current levels. It would continue a freeze on lawmaker salaries that has been in place since 2010.

As for a dollar amount, Moran hasn’t yet thought that through. He said it would probably be consistent with what the federal government provides to other employees.

“…[T]he fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” Um, no Congressman. The fact is, you’d like to think you control the economy like a board of directors controls a company. But even if it were true, you want a raise for the job you’ve done?

A pay increase without merit — doesn’t that say something about the state of America in the Obama years? Burger flippers wanting $15 an hour, Democrats wanting to raise the minimum wage to more than $10 an hour — what value does Congressional labor impart to the country? How many days a year do they work? What have they done to warrant an increase? Or should we just give them a raise because they’re such nice guys and gals?

So OK, we get it. Certainly some members of congress suffer hardships because they can’t stretch $174,000 to meet expenses for maintaining two residences year round. But if they’re forced to leave their families at home, the US taxpayer pays for their travel to and from the district. And since the congressional workweek is 3-4 days a week, that leaves plenty of time for a member to jet home to see his family several times a month. An ideal family life? If the member doesnt’ like it, he doesn’t have to run for office.

But most members have spouses who work, or who were wealthy before they came to congress. According to a report by Open Secrets, there are 268 of 535 members of Congress who are worth $1 million or more. The point being, the vast majority of members don’t need their salaries increased in order to live comfortably.

But Moran raised a legitimate question in the interview:

“More and more we’re going to see people who are already millionaires coming into Congress,” Moran said on WTOP.

“Our pay has been frozen for three years and we’re planning on freezing it a fourth year,” he told Roll Call.

Congressional salaries have not seen a bump since 2009.

The answer may be a “virtual congress”:

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) wants to create a “virtual Congress,” where lawmakers would leverage videoconferencing and other remote work technology to conduct their daily duties in Washington from their home districts.

Under a resolution Pearce introduced on Thursday, lawmakers would be able to hold hearings, debate and vote on legislation virtually from their district offices.

While Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer may have recently nixed the Web company’s work-from-home policy to boost its performance, Pearce believes a remote work arrangement may benefit Congress and make lawmakers more accountable to folks in their home districts.

Pearce says the resolution would eradicate the need for members to jet back and forth from their districts to Washington each weekend. This would allow lawmakers to spend more time with their constituents rather than the armies of lobbyists from K St., he argues.

“Thanks to modern technology, members of Congress can debate, vote, and carry out their constitutional duties without having to leave the accountability and personal contact of their congressional districts. Keeping legislators closer to the people we represent would pull back Washington’s curtain and allow constituents to see and feel, first-hand, their government at work,” Pearce told The Hill in a statement.

“Corporations and government agencies use remote work technology; it’s time that Congress does the same,” the New Mexico Republican said.

In theory, it could work. Members could work from their districts for 2 or three weeks a month and travel to Washington to work in DC for the rest of the time. It would certainly save on expenses and who know, having members outside of Washington for much of the time may actually put them more in touch with the people.

But it’s not going to happen — too many perks in DC to entice members.

It would be nice to go back to the time when members of Congress were basically part time employees and serving the people meant self sacrifice. The honor was in public service itself, the reward in knowing what you were doing was important. Sure there have always been charlatans, gamers, and crooks looking to enrich themselves. But this crew in Congress today seems to be more concerned about what the people can do for them, rather than what they can do for the people.