Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nearly Half Of US Congressmen And Senators Are Millionaires. What's Wrong With This Picture?!?

Sometimes, I wonder why folks bother running for elected office. The hours are long. You open your family up to incredible scrutiny. The money's good, but the job security isn't, especially if you're just a Congressman. And of course, the system's so unfixably broken, even the most starry eyed optimist can be quickly reduced to cynicism. You know, sorta like watching the Redskins play.

Still, each year, hundreds of Real Americans put their hats in the ring to gain one of only 530-some coveted gigs in DC. Some of them undoubtedly do it for the financial come-up (ie: TeaBagging douche extraordinaire Joe Walsh) while others are already caked up, and use the gig to influence legislation and ensure they'll get caked up even more. Meet the public servant's version of The 1%.
Forget Wall Street. With riches like these, “Occupy Congress” may make more sense.

That’s because 250 members of Congress — or 47 percent — have a net worth of more than $1 million, according to a new study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The study, which analyzed data from legislators’ financial disclosure forms, found the average senator had a net worth of about $2.63 million last year. That’s up 11 percent from $2.38 million in 2009 and 16 percent from $2.27 million in 2008.

“The vast majority of members of Congress are quite comfortable financially, while many of their own constituents suffer from economic hardships,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said in a statement.

Some have suggested the dizzying financial success enjoyed by members of Congress is about more than luck, or even good business sense. Peter Schweizer, a fellow with the conservative Hoover Institution, has said lawmakers profit from a kind of “insider trading” that might get them in trouble outside the halls of Congress.

“There are all sorts of forms of honest grafts that congressmen engage in that allow them to become very, very wealthy. So it’s not illegal, but I think it’s highly unethical, I think it’s highly offensive, and wrong,” Schweizer, the author of “Throw Them All Out,” a book accusing congressmen of using their influence and connections to make smart investments, said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” this month.

“For example, insider trading on the stock market,” he said. “If you are a member of Congress, those laws are deemed not to apply.”

Even without exact figures, however, it’s clear that as most Americans struggled in recent years, contending with high unemployment rates and plummeting home values, Congress has only gotten richer. Last year, the combined net worth of Congress skyrocketed to more than $2 billion — a 25 percent increase from 2008, according to a separate look at the lawmakers’ earnings from the Washington newspaper Roll Call.

Meanwhile, the average U.S. family lost 23 percent of its net worth between 2007 and 2009, according to figures released by the Federal Reserve this year.

That said, some members of Congress do considerably better than others. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., topped the list with an estimated net worth of somewhere between $195 million and $700 million, for example, while Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., is apparently the poorest member of Congress, with estimated total net debt of between $2 million and $7 million. According to the study, though, 110 Democrats and 140 Republicans in Congress are millionaires.

Look, I'd be the last person to discourage people from getting rich. It's sorta the American Dream and whatnot. Even if you're born into wealth, reality is, being rich sure as hell beats being late on your Verizon bill. I'd much rather own Verizon.

Still, it's not all that shocking that folks on Capitol Hill can drag their feet extending unemployment benefits, threaten to shutdown the government (although they'd still get paid if that happened), and basically hijack the entire legislative process to ensure rich people keep this Bush tax cuts. It's because most of them either have no point of reference to the day to day struggles of "Real Americans" or are so far removed that it doesn't really matter. It's why a Presidential candidate can actually suggest using child labor to solve the issue of inner city poverty with a straight face. If I was getting $30k/hour to serve as "historian" for Freddie and Fannie, I'd probably be equally clueless, Newt. It's alright, we understand. Sorta.

I think you'd find far more principled, effective people running for Congress if you made it a job with term limits (3 for the House, 1 for Senate) and greatly decreased the pay and perks. Maybe folks like Darrell Issa would find better things to do with their time. You know, like laying on a bed full of $700 million one dollar bills.

BTW, Alcee Hastings, how in the ham sammich did you rack up between $2M and $7M in debt?!? Please retire your dusty, broke ass right now and go call The Hulkster.

That commercial always kills me. Hulk's talkin' about "it's tough out there" while sitting in a 30 story condo overlooking Biscayne Bay. Yep, real tough out here, brother. Real tough.

Question: Is there an inherent conflict of interest when you're a multimillionaire holding elected office? Is it possible to understand "the little guy" when you've got the net worth of an NFL franchise?

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