Jess Chapman

All the Congress, half the fat

In Government on December 5, 2011 at 8:00 am

With the collective approval rating of Congress hovering somewhere between the high single digits and the low 10s, discussions have opened up on how to overhaul the institution. Recent suggestions range from ending the direct election of senators (bad) to imposing term limits on all members (good, I guess). The one that intrigues me comes from, of all people, Gov. Rick Perry: a half-time Congress.

He means that literally. They would spend only half the time on Capitol Hill that they do already, and their pay would drop by up to 75 percent. The standard salary for a member of Congress who isn’t in a leadership position is $174,000; a 75 percent reduction would mean they only get $43,500 annually, which would still be over $11 thousand more than the median income for all Americans over the age of 25. (But they’d be making less than I do, which would be enormously satisfying to think about if their income tax rate would be as high as mine.)

You should immediately have caught on to the fact that the first part of his proposal is utterly ridiculous. The problem with Congress isn’t that they spend too much time on the Hill; quite the opposite, in fact. They spend too much time with Wall Street, K Street, any street other than East Capitol Street. And when they do spend time on the last of those, they don’t use it productively. I have no idea how you would measure congressional productivity, but if anyone can devise some sort of mathematical index to that effect, I’ll take it.

But there is absolutely no reason members of Congress should get salaries like that, not even the most effective members. Last year and the year before, they voted not to give themselves their annual raise. That’s nice, but in the past few months only six of them have called for a pay cut: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and a group led by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). And even tose cuts are pretty small.

Until someone does create the Congressional Productivity Index and we can tie pay to a high score on it, we’d all be better off if Congress didn’t have authority over their own salaries. I would give that power to the Congressional Budget Office instead. If they recommended cuts in the amounts Perry is talking about, in one year they’d save roughly $70 million. Think of what we wouldn’t have to cut if that happened.

I have said many times that charity begins at home, and there would be no finer example of that than automatically passing this cut. Not to do this would be to say that Congress approves of its own performance. And if that mentality does exist on the Hill, we have bigger problems than letting them set their own pay this high.

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