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The Perks of Congress and the President

by James Spurgeon, published

The Washington "Get Rich Quick" Scheme

When George Washington became the commanding officer of the Continental Army, he accepted no pay from the Continental Congress.  He believed in liberty and in the ultimate goal of independence from Great Britain.  When he was elected President of the United States (after the war and after the Constitution had been ratified), he did select to accept payment for his service as was defined in the US Constitution.  He did this so that the presidency would not just a position that could be sought by the rich but also by ordinary citizens.

Today, it often seems as though the President and most of the members of Congress are rich and that only the rich can be elected into these offices as campaigns have grown exponentially expensive.  And usually once someone is elected, and districts are gerrymandered to keep them there, they usually aren't voted out unless there is a scandal.  These days, most politicians seem to leave when they get a better deal from the private sector.  They essentially become a lobbyist... even if that is not their official title.

This isn't saying that being a member of Congress doesn't have lucrative perks.  They are quite nice.  Base salary is $174,000 (leadership gets plenty more).  They get a free "company" car and free parking, along with free flights almost anywhere.  They get a free month of vacation (August), free membership to a top-scale gym though they do have one inside the Capitol now (which we the taxpayers paid for but we aren't allowed to see... not even the media has been allowed inside).

As for "retirement," they get a 401k and a pension, and full retirement benefits which includes up to 44% of their salaries.  Even their spouses can get benefits once the member of Congress dies.  However, contrary to popular belief, members of Congress do not get free healthcare.  They pay 28% of the total premium and get to choose from 10-different selections, just like any other federal employee.

Now to shift things back to the Executive Branch.  As of 2001, the President earned $400,000 ($519,979 in 2012 dollars) plus a $50,000 non-taxable expense allowance.  In 1789, George Washington was paid $25,000, which in 2012 dollars is the same as $673,451.  Starting in 1959, upon leaving the office, they receive a pension and an office and staff.  Their pension is based on the salary of the current administration's cabinet secretaries.  As of 2012, that amount was $199,700.

They also receive travel funds and postal privileges.  And if a President had served in Congress at any time, then they can still receive their congressional pension as well.  President Obama will not be eligible to collect a congressional pension as he did not serve the mandatory 6-years.  From 1965-1996, former Presidents were entitled to lifetime Secret Service protection until the President's death.  This would hold for their spouse and children until aged 16.  Any President sworn in after January 1997 would only be allowed such protection for 10-years after leaving office.

This was changed however, and the previous rules were reinstated by President Barack Obama on January 10, 2013... granting him and President George W. Bush and all future Presidents lifetime secret service protection.  Up until 1959, Presidents left office with no pensions and no other perks, and they usually left office flat broke from having to pay for their own staffs.

By the standards of Congress and Presidential salaries and by their respective retirement packages, most Americans would love to have either.  Why is it these jobs, which were originally created to be a civic duty for all Americans, seem to have become a "get rich quick" scheme.  They are spending taxpayer dollars on themselves instead of funding the actual government.  They don't need all these luxurious perks... the salaries, the double retirement funds, the "free" perks.  They should be entitled to play by the same rules as ordinary Americans since they are supposed to be doing the job of representing us.  Not too long ago, Congress passed an insider trading law making it illegal for them to profit on inside information they knew by passing certain laws.  The public was pleased with this move by Congress.  However, silently, and even without hardly any media coverage, they repealed the law a few months later.

Congress likes to give themselves great salaries and wonderful perks, but then they like to turn around and complain that there is no money for anything and that government is too big.  It is no secret that government is too big, and it has all started with the people that are making it too big... Congress itself.  They give themselves these great retirement packages but then want to cut Social Security and Medicare... two programs that the beneficiaries have actually paid into their entire working careers.  It is their money.  They worked for it, and they earned it.

They want to talk about reducing the size of government, cutting government spending, and forcing government workers to take pay freezes and furloughs, but yet they aren't playing by the same rules themselves.  They always manage to leave themselves exempt from what they are forcing on others.  And most of the perks and pay raises they give themselves, they do so "under the radar" of the American people.  Even the media tends to either completely miss it or just completely ignores it which thus allows Congress to get away with it.

Again I restate that serving in Congress and even as President is a civic duty.  It should not be profitable.  Nothing should be free, and they should be paid and treated as ordinary citizens.  The only perks they should receive should, again, be the same as what regular working Americans get.  They should be allowed to rollover a 401k when they start and roll it over again when they leave (no pension) and with a reduced salary, airfare is only covered to and from their homes.  In the old days of Washington, members of Congress would rent from boarding houses.  They would dine and socialize with other members of Congress even after their work had been finished on Capitol Hill.  Though boarding houses really aren't that common these days, members of Congress should only be allowed to rent a place to live and not purchase a place as they shouldn't be making plans to stay in Congress for their careers.  Besides, they already have a home back where they are from.  They don't need a second one.

In the end, the perks of serving in Congress and the presidency need to be reevaluated.  They receive far too much, and all on the taxpayer dollar.  It's time Congress stopped having a blank check to give themselves whatever they want (and whatever they want to give to the President).  It's not a free ride, and it shouldn't be a way for them to get rich.  They are doing the work of the American people.  It's time they start acting like it, and we, the people, should be demanding this as well.

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