|SITREP - February 3rd 2012|
I have a favor to ask. If anybody who reads this newsletter believes that Congress deserves a raise this year, please let me know. I ask that favor because I’m about to go out on a limb and state as fact that there isn’t a person outside of Washington, DC who thinks Congress has earned a raise.
If I’m wrong, and somebody thinks Congress should be voting itself a raise, I want to make sure I qualify my statement to read, “Just about everybody…”
I bring this up because, among other bills on the floor this week, the House held a vote on whether we want to block giving ourselves a raise. I say, “block “because if we didn’t vote to stop it, the pay raise would have happened automatically. Congress used to have to vote affirmatively to give itself a raise each year. That got uncomfortable, so some clever congressman along the way suggested just making it automatic.
In any case, we had the up-or-down vote to block our own raises and continue the government-wide pay freeze. The results? One hundred and seventeen members voted for the raise. The rest of my colleagues and I voted against it.
As I see it, you earn a raise; you aren’t entitled to one just for showing up.
I’m not sure about you, but from my perspective, it is exactly this kind of entitlement mentality that has contributed to the low approval ratings for Congress. Or to be more blunt about it, it is this sort of self-serving, self-enrichment that has broken the trust with the American people.
Changing that dynamic is one of the most important things for Congress to do at this moment. If you can’t trust that your elected officials will put the country before their own selfish interests, then the leaders of this country will never be able to have the credibility they need to lead the country through some of its toughest challenges.
That means individuals stepping up to the plate instead of passing the buck.
As you’ve heard me say before, the very first decision I made as your representative was to decline the healthcare benefits that I was offered upon taking the job up here. My wife and I knew that it would cost thousands extra each year to keep what we had, but we were adamant that serving in Congress should be exactly that – service. It shouldn’t be an opportunity to enrich ourselves. And beyond all that, if we weren’t willing to make sacrifices ourselves, how could we possibly stand on principle on anything else.
The problem came when we went to decline the pension and other retirement benefits that were offered to me. We were told bluntly by a very nice lady in the payroll office that I couldn’t opt-out of the pension and other benefits. Some years prior, Congress had apparently voted to require itself to take the pension and the taxpayer match to the members’ deferred compensation plans. They were so generous to themselves, in fact, that they voted to require that taxpayers contribute one percent of the members’ salaries to their deferred compensation accounts, even if the members didn’t contribute anything themselves.
That evening, I asked my three boys if they got such a match from the Army… they said they didn’t.
And so here is the second favor: If anybody out there who reads this thinks that a congressman’s service warrants a more generous pension than the ones offered to our men and women in uniform, please let me know. Because otherwise, I’m going to go out on a limb again and state as fact, that nobody outside of Washington, DC thinks that Congress should be getting retirement perks that are better than what we offer our troops.
This brings me to my last point. Most of you probably saw, or have heard about by now, the 60 Minutes story that ran a couple months ago about insider trading in Congress.
The basic idea is that congressmen and senators were taking information about what legislation was going to pass certain committees, which amendments to major bills would be accepted, which roads were going to be built, and so forth, and making investments based on that knowledge before that it became public.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. It just took the spotlight from a 60 Minutes story to bring it to the nation’s attention. In short, there has been a bill floating around for years called the STOCK Act, which is supposed to fix all of this. Nobody ever wanted to touch it. I got sick of the stalling and offered an alternative. Instead of the complex self-enforcement mechanisms that the STOCK Act tries to put forward, my proposal just said that upon taking office, the President, Vice President, and all members of Congress should be required to put their portfolios into a blind trust. My bill is a page and a half long printed normally.
It looks like the STOCK Act or something similar is coming to the floor next week and I suppose that is definitely better than nothing. It’s just another example though of Congress passing these long, complicated pieces of legislation that usually just lead to loopholes and exceptions. If it were up to me, we’d pass the simple version. I’m going to try to push that option, but we’ll see how it goes.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts about any of this, please let me know. On the same note, if you do know anybody who really thinks that Congress has been too stingy with its own compensation benefits, please let me know. I’d like to thank him for his generosity before I explain to him why he’s wrong.