“Politicians make promises they can’t keep
They keep printin’ money till they get in way too deep
It’s the same old lesson, they never learn,
They’re too busy workin’ on their next term
Politicians keep makin’ fools out of you and me.”
— From “Git Go,” by Billy Joe Shaver
T he one thing that is guaranteed during this federal government “slim down” is that the politicians and their staffs who got us into this mess will get paid.
And it doesn’t matter if they are “essential,” or “nonessential.” They will all come out of this smelling like roses.
Political salaries have come a long way since our Founding Fathers gathered to bring some order to this nation of rebels who’d had just about enough of kings and queens and the taxes that support them.
In 1789 members of Congress earned $6 for their services. They were bumped to $8 in 1817 and it stayed that way for the next 38 years, when one of them probably said, “I could use a new wig” and they approved an annual salary of $3,000.
Today we pay members of Congress $174,000 a year, plus perks (think housing, car, travel, food and medical benefits). The speaker of the house earns $223,500 and the Senate majority leader $193,400.
We pay our 100 U.S. senators a combined salary of $252,914,170 per year and our 433 congressmen and women a combined $413,476,982 annually. For some fun math, that means we are paying the politicians we are counting on to lead this once-great nation of ours a combined $1.8 MILLION in salary EVERY DAY, including days like today when they have failed to do their jobs.
Each member of this failed body of people we call Congress has a staff salary of close to $1 million. Nearly 2,000 House of Representative staffers earn six-figure salaries. There are – get ready – more than 10,000 Congressional staffers on our payroll. California’s Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein have staff salaries totaling more than $4 million each, topping the list. My old friend Sen. Dean Heller from Nevada (I knew him when he was secretary of state and drove stock cars on Saturday nights) has the lowest staff payroll at $625,000.
Oregon’s seven representatives (five House and two Senate) have a combined $5.4 million in staff salaries.
I was poking around a bit at some of the congressional staff expense detail and ran across a staffer for New York Congressman Gregory Meeks, who did quite a bit of traveling. He took two trips to Qatar in an effort to “learn more about Qatar” and each trip cost more than $6,000. He could have learned just as much for free on Wikipedia. For the record, Qatar is an Arab state that has a ton of oil and a bunch of wealthy sheiks with several wives, fast cars and probably a few racehorses.
The same staffer also went on a fact-finding trip to Switzerland, where he probably learned that the Swiss motto is “unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno,” which basically means “one for all and all for one.”
That motto does not describe the United States today. The last time we were this divided was the Civil War, when brothers were shooting one another in the front yard.
Last time we fell off the “fiscal cliff,” these people got paid. In fact, many of them got paid for staying home because, what the hell, what’s another bump in a mountain of debt?
The real victims of this slim down (besides most U.S. citizens) are those federal workers known as “nonessential.” They are the ones being sent home with no pay (at least for now). Imagine if your boss was making a list of essential and nonessential employees and you found yourself on the wrong list?
The term “nonessential” could be interpreted as implying that it really doesn’t matter if you come to work or not, which I suspect is true for some federal government jobs. I doubt I’d lose much sleep tonight, for example, if the 2,000 or so employees of the U.S. Department of Education staff took the next month off.
Our nation isn’t any smarter than it was in 1978, when we didn’t have a U.S. Department of Education. In fact, you could make a good case that the agency is partly responsible for the dumbing down of our schools.
That aside, most employees want to feel valued and labeling them “nonessential” can’t be good for morale. They were hired to do a job that someone decided was important enough to create. Besides, it’s tough to blame them for the incompetent actions of Congress.
Unfortunately, congressional pay is guided by our Constitution and it says we have to pay these people whether they do their job or not.
The 27th Amendment specifically states that salaries of House and Senate cannot be changed until a congressional election has come and gone. It was intended to keep them from boosting their own salaries before every election, but in this case it also protects those salaries.
I think they call it an “unintended consequence.”
A blogger for the Washington Post offered some dining tips for those nonessential federal workers looking to stretch their lunch money. One was a great deal on a pork sandwich, something we should deliver to every member of Congress.
It should be served with a pink slip.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.