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Congressional pay raise won’t solve problems

Many average American families are struggling financially. Last year Forbes reported America is at “the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world. In the decades to come we will witness millions of elderly Americans … slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”

Washington’s inability to successfully address the high cost of health care causes problems. CNBC reported, “Bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills will affect nearly 2 million people this year — making health care the No. 1 cause of such filings and outpacing bankruptcies due to credit card bills or unpaid mortgages.”

Businesses are suffering. In March the Sbarro pizza chain filed for bankruptcy. Radio Shack will close about 1,100 stores and Staples will close 225 stores.

The median household income in the U.S. is $51,000. A lot of folks would consider an annual salary of about $174,000 a genuine blessing. For members of Congress $174,000 (their salary) isn’t enough.

Recently Congressman Jim Moran, D-Va., said, “I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid. …I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform but … this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world, and a lot of members can’t even afford to live decently when they’re at their job in Washington.”

Moran announced his retirement earlier this year. He’s probably hoping to find a job that pays a proper wage so he can avoid the kind of threadbare retirement the Forbes article warned about — the kind most of us can expect.

First, Moran’s “board of directors” manages a company that’s $17 trillion in debt. In what universe does that performance merit a pay raise? Second, if members can’t afford to live the lifestyle they desire in Washington then perhaps they shouldn’t run for office. Moran is essentially saying, “Since members of Congress need more money they should get it.”

No doubt a large percentage of working Americans are unable to live decently on their paychecks. The question becomes: Should raises be awarded because the individual needs more cash or because the performance merits a higher wage?

It’s true that members of Congress who live far from Washington often have to maintain two residences, one in the district where they live and one in Washington where they work. To cut corners some congressmen sleep in the office and others share apartments. Moran’s office said the congressman is not suggesting a pay raise but housing assistance. Frankly, that’s pretty much the same as a pay raise. If someone gives you a stipend that’s to be used for housing it doesn’t matter if it comes as part of your paycheck or as a separate form of income.

Members of Congress shouldn’t have to live in shacks dining on saltines and soda but the reality is, $174,000 is a generous salary — especially when one looks at their recent record of “accomplishments.”

While we’re on the topic of congressional nonsense, Republican David Purdue, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, has criticized his GOP primary opponent, Karen Handel, for not graduating from college. Purdue’s point: Without a college diploma she’s unqualified to hold office. Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state.

The idea that college graduates are gold and high school grads are pig iron is insulting and untrue. Nevertheless, Purdue’s campaign released a statement declaring, “David was simply making the case that he is the most qualified person in this race to help get our economy back on track so that we can start paying down the massive federal debt.”

The massive federal debt Purdue referenced was, of course, generated over time by highly educated politicians, many of whom hold degrees from America’s most prestigious universities. Among the educated elites: Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and David Vitter, all Harvard graduates; Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden, graduates of Stanford; Sens. Sherrod Brown and Amy Klobuchard, graduates of Yale.

A university degree or lack thereof is not America’s main political problem. Increasing congressional salary won’t buy better representation — it will merely give politicians a softer cushion as they seek new slogans that shift blame. Until policy means more than party, America’s political system will falter and fail. Our solution will not be found in intelligence and salary but in wisdom and selflessness.

Joseph Bell was communications director for the former Connecticut congresssman, Rob Simmons, R-2nd District.

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