The founding fathers envisioned what they called “citizen legislators.” People would serve their term and then go back home and resume their regular jobs. They would roll over in their graves if they saw what the government has turned into, with members of Congress spending decades in office, and many who spend their whole lives on the government dole.
They envisioned a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” What has transpired is something else entirely. Congress is filled with people far from what you would consider ordinary Americans. It is filled with the wealthy. They are among the wealthiest of Americans and have financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for the vast majority of the people they represent.
In 2009, the last year for which statistics are readily available, the median wealth of a U.S. senator was nearly $2.38 million. And the bad economy didn’t affect their personal wealth much, as their income collectively increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009. Fifty-five Congressmen have a wealth of over $10 million, and eight of them are worth over $100 million.
This is who represents you. Not regular people that might share your concerns and fears. These are the “one percent,” as the Occupy movement calls them. These are people who never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or being out of work. They never have to worry about medical costs, or losing their homes. They are set for life. And they are the ones who determine the rules you have to live by.
To further complicate things, at least 20 current members of Congress invested in companies that found themselves the subject of congressional or federal agency inquiries, such as Goldman Sachs and BP Oil. These companies have been investigated for alleged wrongdoing, which would greatly affect their stock prices. That would obviously affect the personal wealth of these Congressmen. Do you think they had a personal interest in being sure these companies were not adversely affected by any government action against them?
Additionally, companies that many lawmakers’ invested in played key roles in lobbying Congress on two of the biggest items on the Congressional agenda over the past several years, health care reform and financial regulatory reform.
Congressman owned stakes in health care companies such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Abbott Laboratories, CVS/Caremark, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Amgen. And financial firms such as Bank of American, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. They obviously had a personal incentive to be sure these companies weren’t adversely affected by any action they took against them.
Besides their personal wealth, members of Congress get salaries that make them among the most generously compensated government employees in the free world. They receive salaries of $174,000, and an estimated $110,000 worth of fringe benefits. And to top it off, they arranged it so they get automatic raises every year, so the public doesn’t have to see them voting for raises when the country is suffering through bad times as a result of their poor performance.
Similarly, when they vote not to accept the pay increases, they then tout that to the public as showing they are being responsible. In 2010 and 2011, they voted not to accept the pay increase, but in 2008 they received a $4,100 raise, and in 2009 they accepted raises of $4,700 each.
While some might surmise that these are successful businessmen, and that’s who we want running the country, many of the members of Congress inherited their wealth, or attained it by working with or for the government. And many will continue to make substantial incomes off the government after they retire or are voted out of office.
Since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join the private sector have registered to become lobbyists, which is another word for using their contacts and influence to get things done that are advantageous to the company that’s paying them. Since the year 2000, the number of Washington lobbyists has doubled. There are 42,000 registered lobbyists who go to work on the 537 elected officials (435 Congressional representatives, 100 Senators, one President and one Vice-president). That’s right, all those lobbyists are trying to convince those few officials to vote the way they want them to. Starting salary for these jobs? About $300,000 a year, which again come with all the perks that a job with lavish funding entails.
Add in Congressional pensions and these former Congressmen have set themselves up very nicely. There is also the incentive for them to vote a certain way while they are still in office to curry favor with the companies that they hope to work for after they leave office. One hand washes the other, as they say
This isn’t a representative government. This is a government run by the wealthy for the wealthy. Do they really have the welfare of the working man on their minds? Or do they have every incentive, personal and financial, to do the bidding of the wealthy and of the corporations that are responsible for their own well being, whether it be through campaign contributions, future employment or simply the bottom line of their personal investments.
The system has become perverted, and is no longer what the founding fathers envisioned when they set up the system of government they hoped would be of, by, and for, the people. It’s time for a massive restructuring of the system.
You are not represented by someone with the same needs, concerns, and interests as yourself. There is every incentive for our representatives to do what financially rewards them, and that’s exactly what they have done. We need to get back to basics and figure out a way to reclaim our government.