Friday, November 27, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 2

Continued Part 1 (

Whenever I think of the level and extent of the various non-compensatory benefits that our Congressional representatives receive—especially in relation to the week-to-week struggles that the rest of us must endure in these lean economic times—I am reminded of a now-famous line from Mel Brooks’ 1981 “History of The World, Part 1.” In one segment of the comedy classic, Brooks portrays King Louis XVI, lampooning the French Monarch’s penchant for personal excesses (such as demanding sexual favors in relations in return for requests from the peasantry) by repeating the phrase, “Its good to be the king” whenever he receives “compensation” for services rendered. So in the contemporary, if a member of the political class can be paid for their “service” with an amount that puts them in the top 10% of wage earners in the country, and receive an additionally valuable compensation such as affordable health insurance and health care while just one of the same is out of reach for 30 million or so of those they represent, what Congressperson wouldn’t be able to say “It’s good to be a Congressman/woman
For many Americans, myself included, we live with a reality that is markedly different from those we vote to represent us in the halls of Congress. For many of us, part of our week-to-week routine includes the difficult choice between paying for medicine or food, or going without basic health care altogether due to its inaffordability (and the ideologically intractable belief that the Free Market will eventually remedy this inequity). To be fair, the members of Congress receive the same health care plan choices that the other approximately 9 million plus federal government employees are offered. The most popular offering from Blue Cross/Blue Shield cost each individual member $175.08 per month, “with the government contributing an additional $363.16. The hypocrisy in this setup is that many of the same members of Congress often assert that if the government were to similarly subsidize health care for you and I, it would be an example “socialism;” apparently a practice that would herald the coming of Satan himself insofar as those who favor the notion that market forces will solve this dilemma (ignoring the fact of course, that if such were possible, in all likelihood it would have already happened). And in much the same way that 3/4ths of the actual cost of health insurance for members of Congress is subsidized by taxpayers, the life insurance options for the lawmakers is also likewise subsidized to the tune of 1/4th of the total cost to the average American.
Additionally, members of Congress don’t see the long lines outside emergency rooms one usually finds in [the] hospitals that dot lesser affluent areas of the country; they receive “free VIP treatment at military hospitals” without the wait. There is also the little known health benefit of on-the-Hill medical treatment by the capital-based Office of the Attending Physician of the United States

For an annual fee of $503, House and Senate members can designate the official congressional physician to be their primary care doctor—meaning they never have to deal with crowded doctor’s offices or be subject to the same type (lack of care) from a doctor as the rest of us (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Lawmakers Get Bounty of Benefits."

Despite this service being purely optional among Congressmen, it is an existing option that many of us common folk can only dream about.

The retirement schemes for members of Congress are even more—if one can believe it—favorable for this elite club of legislators. While many Americans have to face the very real possibility of having to delay retirement due to the plummeting net worth of their various retirement plans in the current crippling recession, members of Congress enjoy a taxpayer-sponsor variation of the corporate “golden parachute” which addresses the problem of post-retirement income for the aged. Like their salaries, Congressional pensions are determined by a combination of time in office, age at retirement, and the current salary of each member at the time they leave (or are voted out of) office. The rates at which these pensions accumulate value are second only to the pension value of the president in terms of generosity. Moreover, for many career members of Congress, the longer they have served the earlier they are able to collect pensions…an option unheard of among the majority of American employees, even within the federal government. According to the National Taxpayers Union, the end result is that, between the generous accrual rates, the eligibility of early retirement collection, and the likelihood that many members will serve multiple terms totally 10-20 years (or longer), today’s members of Congress can collect a million dollars or more in pension security…less than the luckiest corporate CEO, but significantly more than what the average American will make over their active working lifetimes. What’s more, members of Congress do not lose their pensions upon violations of the law, whether they are found guilty of misdemeanors or felonies; they are allowed to even keep the incremental cost of living increases they receive during their retirements (just ask those convicted former Congressmen who have no worries about their retirement futures). So the 1.3% of their salary that members of Congress must pay toward their government pension plans yields far more in bankable returns than the earnings liability it appears to be on the surface. And this pension scheme doesn’t even include earnings that could be collected if members of Congress participate in a separate 401(k)-style savings plan, which allows them to set aside part of their salaries with a 5% government match. If you’re not outraged yet, stay tuned…

To Be Continued…


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