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Congress doesn’t deserve a salary

Reed Schneider, Opinion Editor
January 30, 2013
Filed under Opinion

The average hard-working American makes $42,980 a year, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. In contrast, the current salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year. The House passed the “No Budget, No Pay Act” Jan. 24, a bill that essentially extends the end date on a final decision for a long-term plan on the debt ceiling threat. If the House and Senate do not compromise on a long-term plan, their salaries will be withheld. In other words, they’re choosing to procrastinate on a solution and won’t be paid for it.

Yet, according to CNN, it’s not that lawmakers won’t get paid if they miss the deadline. Their salaries would just be held in escrow and paid out at some later point. This is wrong. That money should be put to better use, rather than paying politicians for not finding solutions to the debt ceiling. Even better, their salaries could be used to start paying back the debt.

Instead of receiving $174,000 per year for accomplishing very little, they could be cut back to $50,000 per year, still around $7,000 more than the average American. With the 550 U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and Cabinet members, $68.2 million could go toward paying back the national debt.

Some may argue the reason for such a salary is because of the pressure congressmen are under. Their lives are scrutinized by the public in addition to the stressful nature of the responsibility. Tony Griffin, a UW-Green Bay alumnus, argues that shouldn’t matter.

“I don’t deny the job sucks, but so does fast food and they get minimum wage,” Griffin said. “Just because a job sucks doesn’t justify paying them that much. Being a part of Congress or being the president is a civil service, not a retirement plan. This country seems to have forgotten that.”

Griffin is not alone. A new poll from The Hill, a news website focused on politics, shows that 67 percent of likely voters think congressmen are overpaid. Also, a petition demanding salaries of the Senate and Congress to be restricted to $75,000 reached more than 50,000 signatures. The petition was made on the website We the People, created by the Obama Administration to specifically respond to petitions. The petition gathered more than enough signatures to receive an official response from the White House, but they have yet to do so.

The pay and benefits should not be a reason for people to run for office. It should be about doing a service for the country and about helping make a difference for the betterment of society and the people of that society.

Even during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin considered proposing that elected government officials not be paid for their service. Even then, the Founding Fathers were still only paid while in session.

Instead, we have a Congress finding the only solution to be an extension of the due date. House Speaker John Boehner tried to explain during a floor debate why Republicans thought it was necessary to create a House Debt ceiling bill.

“The premise here is pretty simple,” Boehner said. “It says that there should be no long-term increase in the debt limit until there’s a long-term plan to deal with the fiscal crisis that faces our country. This is the first step in an effort to bring real fiscal responsibility to Washington.”

The national debt ceiling issue is far from new. They have had plenty of time to come up with a way to get this under control. This just doesn’t justify the amount of money and benefits they receive on a yearly basis because all they’ve done is simply agreed to procrastinate.