Political class wealth redistribution (Part 1)
During the 2008 presidential campaign John McCain got plenty of play out of Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comment made to “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher while campaigning in Toledo. There’s a compelling argument that Obama’s socialist-leaning remark was taken out of context, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. That’s what opposing wings of the political class do…..they disingenuously thrive on polarizing their bases on one issue or another and then let the media stir up a feeding frenzy. Whether or not Obama intended to spread Wurzelbacher’s wealth around served no other purpose than to offer McCain one more talking point. Of course the Democrats redistribute wealth, but so do the Republicans. Actually it’s part of their job to collect taxes, build a budget and then spend our tax dollars to run the Republic. That’s what governments should do. Unfortunately Congress has lost sight of their basic responsibility to prioritize spending within a balanced budget. That should be the discussion…..not whether or not Obama is picking on small businesses to benefit the welfare state, corporate or otherwise. The important issues are constitutional responsibilities and transparency. We never hear the political class address those, so it may be worth our time to take a closer look at who benefits, who pays the bill and how the political class transfers wealth to various special interests. First, who benefits? Let’s start at the top of the food chain with congress itself.
When it comes to self-dealing, our congress critters have no shame. Since all spending bills originate in the U.S. House, the 435 congresspersons have total control over their compensation packages, not to mention their work schedule. In an October 2013 article, Mike Krumboltz from Yahoo News reported that Congress would be in session for 113 days in 2014. A normal work-year for the citizen class is about 250 days without weekends and holidays, so Congress is in session less than one-half the time of the citizen class. To be fair, members need to spend time back in their districts, but much of that time should be spent on connecting with constituents. Having said that, when was the last time your congressperson held a face-to-face town hall meeting? I know my congressman Mike Turner has been MIA in that regard, but you can be sure Mr. Turner spends lots of time campaigning and raising campaign cash. In any case, here are the perks Congress voted themselves for working about two days a week:
- Salary: $174,000 per year, more for committee chairs and leadership positions,
- Healthcare: Members are covered under the Federal Employees Healthcare Benefits Program (FEHBP). It is not free, but the government pays about 75 percent of the premiums, costing Members about $200-$400 per month, depending on their choice of provider…..not bad for a “Cadillac” healthcare plan.
- Retirement: Covered by the three-pronged Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS).
- Social Security: Members pay 6.2% into Social Security up to $117,000 (in 2014), but nothing on wages above that amount,
- Members can contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan (similar to a 401k) with the government contributing 1% up front and matching up to another 5%,
- Defined benefit plan with cost of living increases: Members vested after 5 years, but can’t start drawing retirement until age 62. For example, a 32-year congressman retiring at age 62 would draw about $130,000 a year in retirement plus Social Security plus a Thrift Savings Plan annuity.
In addition to basic salary and benefits, members of Congress also enjoy other perks normally reserved for royalty to include:
- Lifetime free parking at the Capital and at Washington airports,
- Lifetime free access to private elevators, dining rooms, exercise facilities and tennis courts in the capitol,
- Tax free travel for members and spouses paid by special interest groups,
- Members can make airline reservations on any flight, but pay only for those used.
- (Source: The Center for Public Integrity, Congressional Perks: Lawmaker’s Most Surprising Benefits, May 19, 2014)
Perhaps this lucrative compensation package would be deserved if Congress were actually serving the needs of their constituents, but that’s clearly not the case as a recent New York Times/CBS News poll concluded that the approval rating for Congress dipped to 9 percent, an all-time low. It’s also a superb indicator of why the vast majority of incumbents are so strongly opposed to term limits.