In an era of unrivaled political excess, it seems as if the only group protected from budget cuts are our very own congressional representatives. As it stands now, the national debt is a staggering $14.2 trillion. But you would never be able to tell if you looked at U.S. Congressional expenditures. Every U.S. senator, for instance, is allowed $40,000 a year in office furniture allowances, and can apply for more funding if the office doesn’t exceed 5,000 square feet. While the rest of the country struggles with deciphering IKEA directions for build-it-yourself office desks, congressmen are forced to figure out how to best position their gold-plated, stuffed deerhead mantlepieces. Representatives of the common people, indeed.
The annual salary for a U.S. congressman is $174,000, a figure that hasn’t changed in three years. This figure comes in at more than 3.5 times the country’s GDP per capita. If our elected officials truly want to trim some fat off the government, let’s start with the comfortable compensation of U.S. congressmen and their operational budgets.
Financial incentive should not drive these people into these representative positions. The motivating factor should be to actively take part in a democratic process, to enact legislation to better the lives of their constituents. There’s no way our congressional representatives could possibly relate to the financial difficulties the majority of the country is experiencing. Job security is guaranteed for their terms, if not for the rest of their lives, because of outrageous retainment rates — something the rest of the country would love. These people’s salaries put them in the top bracket of earners in the country. Cutting these salaries to a reasonable level should be done immediately.
In addition to the ridiculous furniture allowance, the operational and staffing allowances create an instant feeling of nausea. Last year, the House Allowance System extended an average $1.5 million to each representative for “personnel, official office expenses, and official (franked) mail.” Each senator receives an average of $3.3 million for these same expenses. These two figures add up to a massive $982.5 million for the 535 U.S. congressmen, in order to run these esteemed offices.
The mail portion of this expense could be instantly cut. We’re thick into the 21st century; the Internet allows congressmen to correspond with constituents and the general public virtually cost-free. Although these and other cuts seem to be small, cutting outdated technology can — and will — coagulate the gushing flow of overused tax dollars. Moreover, reelection mail or political propaganda should only be sent via personal spending. American tax dollars should not extend a single penny to the mailing of any re-election material.
A major problem with the system is our elected officials are compensated very well, when in fact they do not truly work for this compensation. April 8 was the 98th day of the year.
Coincidentally, the U.S. Senate has been in session for only 38 days, the House only three days longer. To compare this to another representative body, the Los Angeles Lakers has played 46 games in the same time span. U.S. congressmen are actually in session less than a professional basketball team. If you listened to doom and gloom interviews from congressmen, you’d swear the country was on the brink of disaster. Apparently, though, the country is in a solid enough state not to warrant meeting more than your average professional basketball team.
Where is the need for millions of dollars for staffing? Each House member is allowed up to 18 permanent staff members. Senators have no numerical limits on staff size, merely financial limitations. A maximum of four staff members should suffice for each congressman. Travel expenses should be cut too. What is the need for arbitrary flights with personal staff all around the country to garner political support and deliver speeches? Travel should only be covered from Washington, D.C. to their home office.
Congress is obviously a political body that works less than the standard 40 hour work week, not including pandering for reelection, personal appearances and fundraising events. The actual “work” aspect of the job is relatively small, and the support staff for the exact task of representing the constituency also seems very small. It’s time to compensate these figures adequately; Americans everywhere are being forced to make changes to their budgets, so too should our government to challenge itself to live within its means.
Public servitude should not be a platform to simply enrich one’s own wealth, nepotistically hire a gargantuan staff or prepare to cash in the celebrity nature of being an American politician. Here’s an idea — elected officials should work as hard as the rest of the country and without the excessive compensation.
—Brody Burns is seeking a masters in business administration.
—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.