What would you say if I told you the federal government is spending at least $800 million on something you don’t like or want? It’s happening. Year after year, and the actual figure is probably closer to $1 billion.
Fact: Recent public opinion polls show a huge majority of us do not approve of the job Congress is doing. The folks at the Gallup organization report the lowest level of citizen confidence in our senators and congressional representatives ever recorded for any institution in the history of their polling. In a Gallup survey taken the first week of June, only 10 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with Congress’ performance. At about the same time, a Rasmussen Report survey found that just 6 percent of those asked gave Congress a positive job rating.
How long do you think you’d keep your $174,000-a-year job if your job performance were rated less than 10 percent?
Where did I get the $174,000 figure? That’s the annual salary of most of the 535 members of Congress. Those in the leadership (speaker of the House, the majority and minority leaders) make even more, up to $223,000. Taken together, the yearly nut just to pay these subpar performing legislators is more than $94 million.
Fasten your seatbelt, because that’s not even the half of it. Every member of Congress also gets a taxpayer-funded allowance. According to the Congressional Research Service, the money goes for, “Official office expenses, including staff, mail, travel between a member’s district or state and Washington, D.C., and other goods and services.” The allowance differs depending on how far away the representative’s district is from the Capitol (airline flights back and forth are expensive!) — but guess what the average allowance is. More than $1.3 million each year!
Grab your calculator, and let’s add this up. At a minimum, each member gets a $174,000 salary and a $1.3 million allowance for a total of more than $1.5 million per year. Now, let’s multiply that by the 535 members of our lackluster, partisan-paralyzed Congress, and you get a grand total that tops $818 million. This doesn’t even count all the various perks members get or the cost of keeping the U.S. Capitol building operating.
So, what do you think? You think we’re getting our almost billion dollars worth of leadership? Yeah, me neither.
I think there ought to be a law against such blatant and meaningless spending of taxpayers’ dollars. Seems as though a case could be made for conspiracy to defraud, misappropriation of federal funds or … SOMETHING!
Outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said it best and with the fewest number of words. “Look,” he told Bloomberg News recently, “we’re incompetent.” Coburn, like many other members, is seriously disappointed with the lack of progress on Capitol Hill in recent years, and he believes the members absolutely deserve the low poll ratings they get. “It’s fully appropriate,” Coburn said, and it’s part of the reason he isn’t running for office again after 19 years of service.
Where is the leadership we have elected these people to provide? There has been little or no action on: bringing down our massive budget deficit, the imbalance of trade, the overly burdensome tax system, the sickly Social Security program, immigration reform, unemployment, failing schools, poverty and our continued dependence on foreign oil.
Have you ever tried to call your senator’s or representative’s office to ask for help? I have. The run-around I got finally made me give up trying to draw attention to a hazardous situation in my neighborhood. What do these people do all day besides conspire about how to win the next election by smearing the opposition? This isn’t governing — in fact, to my mind it borders on racketeering! And they play this useless political game day after day using our money. Shame on the so-called “leadership” of the House and Senate, who are supposed to guide their members into directions that help — not hurt — our country.
Yep, there ought to be a law.
Let me ask you three questions: Has your elected official lived up to all the campaign promises he or she made? Do you feel that things will get better if we just give them more time in office? Is your elected representative helping make this a better country in which to live?
If the answer to these questions is “No!” then I want you to print out this column and keep it in your wallet. Read it periodically, up and until the next election. Share it with your friends, family and neighbors, and get them to realize that the political shenanigans that continue year after year in Washington happen because we let them happen. We voted in these knuckleheads. We can vote them out.
If you want real justice from government — a proper balance of bang for your buck — we have to vote out the glad-handing, overpromising, congenial incumbents. They just are not getting the job done.
We need to encourage a brand-new type of candidate to step forward and bring his or her real-world experience in business, education, medicine, science and entrepreneurial innovation with them. Those who populate Capitol Hill should come from the real ranks of life — not from the privileged class of the career politician, who have proven they are “incompetent” time and time again.
There ought to be a law, but there isn’t. And our only power to change things is our vote.
Vote like your future depends on it, because it does.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Contact her at email@example.com, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.