The Freak Show: The New Kings

Ever hear of the phrase “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”? It used to be an ideal our country aspired to.

In fact, during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin had the concept that elected government officials shouldn’t be paid; it was something that our government, made up of ordinary citizens, should do because they wanted to band together to do what’s best for our country. And while the idea didn’t fully take hold, from 1789 to 1855, members of Congress only received a per diem of $6 while in session, to cover expenses. And in 1855, they began receiving a salary of $3,000 per year.

That’s a far cry from what we have today. The majority of our members of congress are millionaires. And they receive minimum salaries of $174,000, with leading members getting up to $223,500. And of course, all their business related expenses are covered, such as office expenses, travel, food and postage. And a cost-of-living-adjustment increase takes effect every year automatically, unless they specifically vote to not accept it.

Everyone knows about the outlandish health plan and pensions these people get, all paid for by us. But when questioned, they are quick to point out that members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50. Now, that’s harsh, isn’t it? And they also note that members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to receive a pension. And by law (one which they wrote), the starting amount of a member’s pension may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary. Heavens! That’s rough! The lowest paid member can only receive 80% of $174,00, approximately $140,000. How will they manage?

And we couldn’t risk any problem with those pensions, so they are not tied to the stock market, as a regular person’s would be. They are directly paid by us, the taxpayers. And just to be extra sure, they made the pensions “inflation protected,” so they go up with inflation. I bet yours, if you even have one, doesn’t do that!

But a lot of people aren’t aware of what else they give themselves. Do you know that they don’t have to worry about parking? They park free at both Washington, DC, airports, in the spots closest to the terminal, so they don’t have to walk too far. Even at work, they not only have free underground parking garages, but they had a tram built to ferry them to their nearby office buildings. And while they’re at work, they can just walk downstairs to the basement, where they will find banks, a post office, barber shops, and even shoe shines.

And while they are hitting the post office, they may as well send out some mail telling their constituents back home what a great job they are doing. It’s called the franking privilege, which gives them the right to send mail for free. Sure helps when you’re running for re-election to have that advantage over an opponent!

There are also not one, but two private gyms, one for the Senate, and one for the House of Representatives. When I say private, I mean private… only members and former members of Congress are allowed to use them.

How about a visit to the Smithsonian museum? We are allowed to look, but if you’re a member of congress, you can grab a few items and use them as decorations in your office. Of course, you need some impressive decorations to go with the $40,000 that they each get for office furnishings.

And if you’re feeling ill? Of course, you have that great health plan, which covers everything. But it’s too much effort to get to a doctor. Better have a small hospital, with waiting physicians and an ambulance gassed up and ready to go, down in the basement as well. That’s right folks, we pay for what is officially called the Office of the Attending Physician. They say it’s for emergencies, when our nation’s leaders might be needed at a moments notice during national emergencies. But they’ll do everything from flu shots to chiropractic.

And to make sure they don’t wear themselves out, they have a regular work schedule of Tuesday at noon to Thursday evening. Of course, they will all say they are working outside those scheduled session days, but that’s all they require of themselves. And they have the month of August off to campaign for reelection or to go on congressional trips.

But if you need the time off for something important, you can usually swing it. When Rep. John Boehner, now the House Majority Leader, wanted the day off to attend an Ohio State football game, his colleagues were more than happy to oblige and cancel the day’s session. His spokesman explained he felt he had to be there to support his state school.

Should a member feel the need for spiritual guidance, we are paying $415,00 a year for the office of the Senate Chaplin. His duties? To say a prayer at the start of sessions, and counsel members. Makes you feel bad for the House Chaplin; he only gets $179,000.

The estimated cost of running our congress is $4.4 billion a year. In his speech after being sworn in as the new Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner pledged to cut $35 million from operating costs, about 5 percent of the House budget, to show they were serious about cost cutting. What he didn’t tell you was that they raised spending 5.8 percent last year. And raised it 40 percent in the last ten years. That’s right, they’ve almost doubled their spending. Cutting it 5 percent is a cruel joke. If these Republicans were serious about what they pretend to want, they’d take a little more serious action.

During the Great Depression, Congress actually voted themselves a pay cut, since the people of the country were suffering so badly. Think we’ll see that from the current crop we have that call themselves public servants? No way. They think they are kings. We don’t have anything close to “Government by the People.” Benjamin Franklin is rolling over in his grave.