Cutting Congressional Pay: Pointless Symbolism
Taxpayer "watchdog" groups are urging House Republicans to cut Congressional pay as an act of symbolism. It's symbolism all right, pointless symbolism.
The Hill reports that Speaker-to-be John Boehner is being pressured to propose a cut in Congressional pay as one of the first acts of the new House of Representatives:
Soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is being pressed by taxpayer groups to slash the salaries of House lawmakers.
Cutting member pay would show voters the new GOP majority in the House is going to lead by example in their efforts to rein in spending and start with their own wallets, say officials with three prominent taxpayer advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.
“There has to be a visible gesture that people can immediately relate to,” said Pete Sepp, the executive vice president of the conservative National Taxpayers Union.
“And cutting pay would be one of the best symbols, because unlike virtually anything else the federal government does, when Congress spends money on its own salaries and benefits, people can make a direct comparison to their own situation,” Sepp said.
Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he supports members taking a pay cut, but when he spoke with Republican leadership aides recently, they were not quick to jump on the idea. However, Norquist said, Republicans might want to unveil the pay cut in a ceremonial fashion and not have their limelight stolen.
“I heard the rumor — and this may be true, but they just aren’t ‘fessing up to it,” he said.
Norquist added, “I talked to people around Boehner and they didn’t say, ‘No we’d never do that.’ They just weren’t saying ‘Yes.’ And if I were them, I would not tell me if they had some plan to do it because they want to announce it themselves.”
Members of Congress froze their salary in 2011 and did so this year as well, as they have on six other occasions since the law requiring lawmakers to vote against a cost-of-living increase was created in 1990, according to the Congressional Research Service. But the last time members of Congress took an actual pay cut was in the midst of the Great Depression on April 1, 1933.
And with more than 450,000 Americans experiencing joblessness, according to the Department of Labor’s latest numbers released Thursday, voters are going to be looking to Republicans for signals and symbols of actual change on Capitol Hill, Sepp said.
Congressional pay amounts to approximately 0.00265% of the total Federal Budget. Cutting what Congressman and Senators are paid amounts to absolutely nothing when it comes to seriously cutting spending and, as Jim Harper notes, if the GOP is serious about cutting spending it would be better to, you know, actually cut spending:
Symbols are great, but they don’t actually do anything. Rather than symbols, it might be better to hear a commitment to substance.
Or even procedure! A commitment to pass the appropriations bills on time would be good, for example, providing the public an opportunity to weigh in on the spending priorities of Congress.
Instead of anything like that, though, the people outside Congress who claim to be looking out for taxpayers are urging Republicans to engage in pointless symbolism. Quite frankly, I don’t care how much Congressmen and Senators are getting paid. What I do care about is whether or not they’re doing their jobs, and whether or not they’re actually taking real, concrete steps to curtail federal spending and reduce the budget deficit. If they do that, then what’s in their paycheck at the end of the week is going to be the least of my concerns.
You see the same sort of pointless symbolism in the GOP’s war on earmarks. In total, earmarked spending accounts for about $ 16 billion out of an annual Federal budget in excess of $ 1 trillion, or since a picture is worth a thousand words:
So, why all the attention paid to such an insignificant parts of the budget ? Personally, I’ve got to believe that there’s no small degree of political opportunism going on here. Earmarking is easy to criticize because it seems like pork-barrel politics at it’s most petty level, and saying that Congressmen and Senators should get a pay cut has populism written all over it. For an up-and-coming Congressman, or a Senator with dreams of moving down Pennsylvania Avenue to a larger, more oval, office, they are both very easy targets to pick and claim that you’re “fighting government waste.” In reality, of course, you’re not.