Continued from Part 2: http://beyond-the-political-spectrum.blogspot.com/search/label/Congressional%20Perks
When it comes to the benefits of power, the elected federal lawmakers who make up the House of Representatives and the Senate—Congress—are without par; even former United States presidents cannot hope to match the level of excess, greed, sense of entitlement, and what I like to call the residual effects of public office that Congress offers its office holders. The problem is that such an extensive network of material and institutional benefits has seemingly created a sense of entitlement to the point where when viewed collectively, the perks that Congressional lawmakers receive are more reminiscent of royalty rather than elected representatives.
Consider the double-standard for criminal by which defrocked Congressional legislators benefit from. The recently convicted likes ex-Congressmen Duke Cunningham, Bob May, and William Jefferson Clinton not only get to keep their government pensions (which, unlike military retirement pay, may be revoked under only on conviction for a "high crime" such as treason), but if history is any indication, will likely parlay their Congressional tenures into private-sector opportunity with potential links to (you guessed it) government. This seemingly perennial propensity for Congressional lawmakers skirt or break the law creates—or maybe is born from—the sense of entitlement and above-the-commoner attitudes that many have with regard to the law. For instance, you know that law that makes it illegal for private- and government-sector employers to discharge, demote, or sanction an employee for having to fulfill their military obligations whenever they given orders to mobilize? Well, Congressional employers have given themselves an exemption from having to obey the same law; military enlistees can and have been given the boot for obeying orders to serve their country.
This sense of imperial above-the-masses thinking even applies to the smaller aspects of rules and laws. For instance, there are more than a few cases on record where Congressmen have had traffic tickets fixed (some after exerting the power and influence of their office) after breaking rules of the road for no good reasons, reflecting the belief that they believe themselves exempt from the same laws that govern the rest of us. Fortunately though, some Congressmen, most notably Senator John McCain have fought against the excesses and abuses of privilege and entitlement than many Congressmen routinely engage in
Lawmakers claimed the right to exempt themselves from [a] system of "fines" known to children across America -- those applying to overdue library books. In 1994, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the "Library of Congress Book Protection Act," in response to official estimates that 1/3 of the books on loan from the Library of Congress were overdue, and that $12 million worth of books were "missing." In many cases, Senators, Representatives, and Congressional staff members were implicated (Congressional Perks: How The Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers. National Taxpayers Union Foundation).
However, not all attempts to eliminate Congressional perks have been so unsuccessful. Below is a list of excesses that have been eliminated during the 1990s (mostly to the fact that their existence came to public light).
Despite this list, many other such questionable benefits exist for members of both houses such as:
* Annual general offices expenses allowances of $1.3 million for rank-and-file member of the House (with highest-ranking member expenses reaching $4.5 million) and $2 million for Senate members. The only restriction they face is the prohibition against using the money for campaigning.
* Congressional delegation trips—Codels—are available for members of Congress, their staff, often their spouses on government jets. Aside from the occasional fact-finding mission to the world’s trouble spots and to home districts, many codels are nothing more than junkets to exotic locales and well-established vacation spots (such as resort towns).
* Free unreserved (and not surprisingly) prime parking spaces at Reagan and Dulles International Airports.
* In addition to the traditional government holidays, members of Congress receive far more generous compensated time off. For example, during the Memorial Day holiday legislators get the entire week off. They also receive additional recesses, some lasting as long as a month. Members prefer to call these periods “District Work Periods” in lieu of “vacations,” despite the absence of requirements for them to be in their home districts during these times.
* Exemptions and immunities from tax, pension, and other laws that burden private citizens — all crafted by lawmakers themselves (example: a $3,000 annual income tax deduction for a maintaining a second residence).
* Health & life insurance approximately 3/4 and 1/3 of whose costs, respectively, are subsidized by taxpayers (previously discussed).
* Access to valuable (and in some instances priceless) artwork from the Smithsonian Institute to decorate the offices of Congressmen (and Congresswomen).
* The “Franking Privilege,” which gives members of Congress millions in tax dollars to—among other things—create a favorable public image by allowing free postal mailings to their constituents…while the US Postal Service is swimming in red ink.
Naturally this list is hardly exhaustive of the many perks of being a Congressman, but suffice it to say that there are many more lesser-known benefits of being a Congressman. However, there is one benefit that continues to thrive, despite calls for reform from many quarters. Stay tuned...