THE MAILBOX – Here is the usual stuff I don’t want to receive. Ransom notes, junk mail from my children, dunning letters from the Leg Breakers Collection Agency (“Pay or die.”). Eh? What’s this? “The current administration is out of touch with small business.” President Obama is a jerk. He’s against God, small pets and drilling in your church yard on Sundays.
OK, I get the drift. This mail-out is from my Congressman, Rep. Stanley Shady, whose IQ is equal to his age. (Mark Twain wrote: “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”) Still, Shady was fairly elected by his constituents, my neighbors, whose idea of treasonous liberalism is the Bill of Rights. They are so right-wing they have banned leftovers. (rim-shot) My neighborhood has white hoods. They want UT to abolish the College of Liberal Arts.
Rep. Shady, being a Republican, declares the Democratic majority in the Senate “has blocked nearly all of the free market, pro-growth initiatives.” He wants unlimited offshore drilling and blasts “record breaking welfare and food stamp rolls.” “It is all disheartening to job creators.” This is a recording.
Wait. There’s very small print here. “This mailing was prepared, published, and mailed at taxpayer expense.” That’s you and me. Hold everything! We all know that members of Congress can use campaign and/or personal funds to tell us how great they are and how their opponents are rotten skunks. I’m good with that. It’s a tradition. Or — repeat, OR — members of Congress can use taxpayer funds to tell us how they voted, bills they passed and about their tax-paid fact-finding expeditions to darkest Monaco. But they should not use my tax dollars for their political campaigns. Isn’t that illegal? Next thing the National Guard will be putting up his billboards and my mail carrier will be wearing a “Shady For Congress” button while delivering me these costly diatribes.
In answer to your next question, yes, I would be just as angry if my Congress member voted exactly the way I wanted every time. For me, there is no red state or blue state. It is the state of my green, and it’s getting wasted. This sleazy self-promotion is only the latest outrage we are getting from those 535 incompetents we call members of Congress, and we don’t like it. The June 2012 ABC News/Washington Post poll found only 13 percent of Americans approve of the job performance of Congress, and 84 percent disapprove. It’s the worst ratings since the first survey in 1974. Gallup puts approval at 17 percent. Said one Congressman, “I’d like to meet that 17 percent who thinks we’re doing a good job.”
About three-quarters of registered voters (76 percent) say most members of Congress do not deserve re-election, the highest such percentage Gallup has measured in its 19-year history of asking this question. Those who say most members deserve to be re-elected is also a record low. That’s hypocritical, of course. We don’t like any members of Congress except our own. In recent elections 98 percent of the Representatives and 89 percent of Senators got re-elected.
How much does it cost to operate Congress? Just $5.042 billion a year. Figures are deliberately hard to come by, but let’s try. A base salary for members of Congress is $174,000 and slightly higher pay for its leaders. Then there’s the staff: our pols love to be surrounded by minions. Running the Senate: $869.3 million a year, mainly for the personnel and office expenses of individual Senators; and the salaries of their employees – secretaries, doorkeepers, food tasters. The House of Representatives has more members and its costs amount to $1.2 billion annually. The Capitol Police Dept. has the full time equivalent of 2,125 people. Annual cost: $300 million. Capitol Hill has half as many police as the City of Houston. There are funds for the gift shop, recording studio, etc. Some costs are hard to hunt down — the “Senate Restaurant Fund” is listed as a “Public Enterprise Fund.” And on and on. Years ago Mark Twain also wrote: “There is no native criminal class except Congress.” Nothing’s changed.
Here’s another point: The 2011 House met for only 174 days. If the House stays on schedule, it will be in session a total of 128 days this year. Does your boss allow you to spend less than half the year at work? There are many other small perks to the job. Members of Congress get free, up-close parking at Washington’s Reagan Airport. Both the House and the Senate have their own gyms with swimming pools. There are no signs on the gym doors and only members and gym workers are let in. For gym use, House members pay $20 a month; the senators pay $40. Experts in the profession say those fees in no way cover the actually costs, which, you will be surprised to learn, are not listed in any budget, just stuck in entries such as Architect of the Capitol. Honest.
Did you know that there is a Senate Hair Care Revolving Fund? For fiscal year 2010 it was $33,387. But even more importantly, this “revolving fund” has a balance, which is appropriated solely for this Senatorial hair care. That fund balance, which is invested and gains each year, is $261,117.19. All these expenses are for a Congress consisting of 245 millionaires. Based on 2009 data, there are currently 66 in the Senate and 179 in the House (among current voting members). So while just 1 percent of Americans are millionaires, 66 percent of senators are millionaires, as are 41 percent of House members.
Getting back to this expensive pamphlet from my member of Congress which I paid for, it reads, “The federal government doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.” No. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the federal government doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has an idiocy problem.
Ashby is outraged at email@example.com