When voters elect members of Congress, they are hiring them to do a job. Voters, through their taxes, compensate those politicians well — $174,000 a year, and more if they have committee or leadership roles.
Many, if not most, voters — unless they are among the 12.5 million without jobs — work about 35 hours a week for a median income of about $32,000. They get perhaps two weeks of paid vacation each year. But a member of the House of Representatives this year was scheduled to show up for only 89 days from January to November. He (and it’s generally “he,” not “she“) is taking off a week in February, another in April, still another in May, and — get this — the whole of August and the first week of September. “It’s too hot in the city in August,” he tells you, then takes off for week-long conventions in the hot, humid Deep South before working only eight days in September. That’s 89 days out of the 172 days voters will be at work (minus a few paid holidays) before Nov. 6.
Oh, he’s scheduled for the first of October, but don’t bet on him showing up in the District of Columbia. He’s gone until mid-November. It’s what members of Congress do every two years — stop doing their jobs to try to keep their jobs.
Senators’ time on the job at least looks better on paper. Senators are scheduled to be in session 142 days before mid-November. But don’t bet on about 30 of those days. Senators are scheduled to be in session but they’ve left for home and likely won’t be back before mid-November. Apparently a third of them are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs.
That’s the schedule of the miscreants whom voters hired to work for the voters. But if members of Congress work so little for the voters, who the hell are they working for?
But wait, members of Congress claim. Just ’cause the House and Senate aren’t in session doesn’t mean we’re not working. They claim they do plenty of committee work. But how often do they fail to show up for committee and subcommittee meetings because no TV cameras are there? Will they even give you a list of who attended committee meetings?
And, of course, they claim they need to take pricey trips across the land — and around the world — to stay informed. Those trips are called “junkets” or costly “codels,” short for “congressional delegations.” (The House voted to cap spending on all federal agency junkets after the GSA scandal last year — but not those of Congress.) Often, those “junkets” are paid for by special interests.
And, of course, members of Congress claim they need to time to confer with constituents back home. Visit the website of your member of Congress. Perhaps you’ll see a list of all the “town hall” meetings he or she promised to attend in all municipalities in the district. That’s conferring?
Bullshit. Voters have hired members of Congress who only work part time for the voters. Yes, reps and senators have staffs in the District of Columbia and in various cities in their home districts or states. But voters did not hire staffs to do the job. They hired members of Congress to wrestle with difficult public policy questions, not diddle with Big Pocket Donors or blindly bash the other political party in childish avoidance of legislative compromise.
No matter what elected members of Congress profess publicly as the time-intensive burdens they must shoulder when Congress is not in session, they really spend about 30 to 70 percent of their time chasing after two tightly interwoven goals — raising mountains of money, which allows them to get re-elected.
House representatives, on average, need at least $1.3 million to get the votes necessary to stay in this part-time job. So the real job of members of Congress is raising money:
Between 1974 and 2008 the average amount it took to run for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives increased from $56,000 to more than $1.3 million. The total spent by all candidates for Congress (both House and Senate) in 1974 was $77 million. By 1982 that amount was $343 million — a 450 percent increase in eight years. By 2010 it was $1.8 billion. [emphasis added]
If you happen on your member of Congress doing some home district conferring (and it’s highly unlikely that you will), and he or she claims to be doing “the work of the American people,” ask him or her a few straightforward questions.
“How much time did you spend raising money to keep your job? And how much time did you spend working for me — the voter who hired you?”
I’m sure you’ll receive honest answers. Your member of Congress is a public servant, after all. Right?