For improved democracy, we might start by cutting congressional pay

I used to think $200,000 was a good salary for a president, who, after all, has a mansion, servants, resort home and a great many other benefits at public expense, leaving the 200 grand as spending money. But Congress decided to double the presidential salary to $400,000 in 2001.

The reason the presidential pay was doubled is that the Congress itself is approaching the $200,000 range and couldn’t make more than the president (wouldn’t look good). And if there’s one thing that can get Congress off their corrupt asses, it is voting themselves another pay raise. They already make well over $200,000 when one figures in their benefit package.

One reason our lords and ladies running the Congress say they must make higher than average pay is that it takes that to hire good people. If that were true, one wonders where are all the good people? Good ones are as rare as rocking horse poop in the Congress.

They say they must keep up with inflation. This would make sense if they cared about the working poor, who’ve lost about a third of their minimum wage buying power to inflation since 1968. Congress does not care if the minimum wage keeps up with inflation as long as their own nest is feathered.

While denying health care to the American people (too expensive, they say), they have one of the best health care packages existing for themselves. This, even as thousands die in the USA for a lack of health care annually. Few of them ask how other nations can provide medical care for their people.

To convince me that you can’t get good people for less than hundreds of thousands of dollars, I need evidence. I know people who live in poverty helping the homeless and hungry, who are not only good people, but much brighter than most members of Congress.

I think the way to get good people is to cut the pay. Give members of Congress the median income. I think that would more likely draw good people. Today we are drawing the kind of people who will only do “public service” for a comfortable salary—people likely to sell us out for cash.

If those representing us in our highest offices made salaries nearer to those of the average citizen, they might be more understanding of the problems of average citizens and strive to make a fairer nation. More than half of Americans cannot afford a $1,000 emergency, and it’s doubtful many members of Congress know this.

Today, Congress sells us out to corporate interests and the interests of the wealthy, in part because we attract people corrupted by the money, people who wouldn’t run for office to make a working-class salary.

Yes, there’s more to it than this, the bribery euphemistically called “campaign financing,” the corporate-controlled media that favor corrupt candidates for office, and a voting system designed to elect establishment bootlickers.

But I do think lowering the salaries would turn away more of the corrupt sort we get in Congress these days. And I’d tie their salary to that of the working poor so Congress couldn’t raise its own salary without raising the minimum wage.

I know there will be some who think that paying working class salaries to high ranking officials in our government would invite corruption, but I can’t see our government being corrupted more than it is today. It does not represent the bottom 99%.

Let’s make “public service” mean what it says.

Jack Balkwill has been published from the little read Rectangle, magazine of the English Honor Society, to the (then) millions of readers USA Today and many progressive publications/web sites such as Z Magazine, In These Times, Counterpunch, This Can’t Be Happening, Intrepid Report, and Dissident Voice. He is author of “An Attack on the National Security State,” about peace activists in prison.

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