Are representatives in Congress worth what we are paying them?

In a national Rasmussen Reports survey, only 8 percent of likely voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Fifty-two percent rate Congress’ performance as poor.

But members of Congress make a healthy living at taxpayers’ expense. They receive a salary of $174,000 per year, as well as generous fringe benefits, which increase their total compensation to $285,000 per year.

Members of Congress are among the highest-paid 5 percent of American workers. Unlike the private sector, where salaries are earned from willing customers in exchange for a product or service, congressional salaries and benefits are taken out of taxpayers’ pockets without any requirement for what Americans receive in return.

The generous pay and benefits Congress has provided for itself are unacceptably high when those who work in virtually all industries in the private sector have seen their wages flatten out, or even cut.

Those who were able to keep their jobs are constantly evaluated by “pay for performance” standards. It is clear these performance standards are not applied to Congress. America is saddled with a $14.3 trillion debt and a $1.5 trillion deficit, but weeks of debt-ceiling negotiations left our nation in virtually the same economic predicament as when talks began.

Another way to measure congressional salaries is to compare them with the average wages earned by private-sector employees. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an average full-time employee in the United States earns annual pay of $50,875.

This means members of Congress make 3.4 times more than the average full-time American worker. In addition, on average, legislators in other parts of the developed world receive salaries equal to
2.3 times the average wage of a full-time worker. By these standards, Members of Congress are among the highest-paid legislators in the world.

Finally, the relative disproportion of congressional pay does not disappear if one compares congressional pay with the pay of more educated private-sector employees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private-sector workers holding masters degrees earned 63 percent more than the average full-time American worker, or about $83,000. Even by this standard, congressional salaries are more than double those paid to well-educated, private-sector workers.

While most taxpayers believe members of Congress should be adequately compensated for their efforts, it is excessive to make them among the best-compensated employees in the American workforce without holding them responsible for their job performance.

During a weak economic recovery, when unemployment is high and many Americans have had to make do with less, Congress should not be rewarding itself with extravagant salaries and benefits.

Immediate steps should be taken to cut congressional salaries and benefits. For example, reducing legislative salaries to $100,000 would save taxpayers $39 million annually and reassure Americans that sacrifices made during this economic downturn are being shared by everybody, especially members of Congress.

David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and MacMillin Slobodien is executive director of Our Generation.

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