What do We, The People, Pay Congress?

Daniel Ganninger
September 29, 2014
800px Capitol Senate
The U.S. Capitol, or aka “The honey hole”

Do you know how much your Congressman or woman makes doing a job that has a current approval rating of 12% who think they’re doing a good or excellent job (it was 8% a year ago), and 58% rate their performance as poor (Rasmussen Poll – June 8)?  The answer may or may not surprise you.

Why is Congress so “bad”?  Are they unsatisfied with their accommodations?  Do they not like what is served in the cafeteria?  It would take eighty or more posts to really explain why the average American can’t stand the job they’re doing, but maybe it’s just the pay.  Maybe the taxpayer needs to fork over a few more bucks to get them on the right track.  No, just kidding.  I thought you would need a laugh.  The one thing you shouldn’t hear them complain about (but some have) is their pay.

It’s public knowledge what a member of Congress makes, but maybe you haven’t seen the numbers in a while.  According to a report on January 7, 2014 by the Congressional Research Service on Congressional Salaries and Allowances, the last pay adjustment was in January of 2009.  The salaries for Congress have not changed since then.  But don’t pull  your tissues out just yet-Senators and Representatives still make $174,000 per year.  The Speaker of the House pulls in $223,500, and the President pro tempore of the Senate, minority and majority leaders of the House, and minority and majority leaders of the Senate make $193,400.  In addition they are allowed 15% of their basic pay to be earned outside of their Congressional pay.  This income cannot come from certain areas however, such as employment from a firm, corporation, or association.

Barack Obama addresses joint session of Congress 2 24 09
Hold on, we’re paying them how much?

Congress is also appropriated money for personnel, office expenses, and mail allowances (as if we use that so much now).  Representatives have something called Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA).  It is used for travel, staff, office space, and supplies.  The MRA has decreased in recent years due to certain House resolutions, and the average allowance is now $1.24 million.  The personnel allowance of this amount is $944,671.  This is the amount each Representative can use to employ up to 18 people with the option of four more if they fall under a specific category (part-time, paid intern, temps, etc).  The remainder is used for office expenses and mail.  The overall budget for the House for MRAs’ is now at $573.9 million, which is actually down from the $660.0 million in 2010.  Too bad the Great Recession started in early 2008.

At the other end of the Capitol, the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA), is the Senators’ office and personnel expense fund.  The average for this account in the Senate is $3.2 million.  The overall budget for this expense is $396.2 million in 2012, down from $422.0 million in 2010.  This covers exactly what the account says-personnel and office expenses.

Along with the SOPOEA, Senators have an interesting perk with office space.  They can have office space in a federal building in the state they represent.  The office can be up to 5,000 sq ft if the state’s population is less than 3 million, and up to 8,200 in a state with a population of over 17 million.  In addition, they can have as many offices as they want; there is no restriction.  Senators also get $40,000 to furnish their state offices up to 5,000 sq ft.

Is your head swirling yet?  It should be.  But wait, there’s more.  Let’s take a look at a few non-elected positions and what they get paid.  In the House: Chief Administrative Officer, Clerk of the House, Sargeant at Arms, Chaplain, Legislative Counsel, Law Revision Counsel, Parliamentarian, Inspector General, Interparliamentary Affairs Director, and General Counsel to the House – $172,500.  In the Senate: Secretary of the Senate, Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper, Legislative Counsel, Legal Counsel – $172,500, Parliamentarian – $171,315, and Chaplain – $155,500 (Not sure why the House Chaplain gets paid more.  I guess they’re more rowdy over there).

800px United States Capitol west front edit2
Where all the magic happens

So after all that is said and done, what do you think?  Do we pay our Congress too much, or too little?  I don’t think they do a poor job because of the pay.  But what if they’re just struggling to make ends meet like the rest of us.  That’s enough stress to show up in poor job performance.  Oh, I forgot to tell you one last tidbit of information.  The average net worth for members of Congress?  $1.01 million (House – $900,000  Senate – $2.79 million).  Strike out there.

Obviously money is not why Congress is so “bad”, but remembering how much we pay them helps when we want to complain.  Shouldn’t we expect better performance in everything a Congress member does, and shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard?  You bet.  We pay them a lot of money so we should always expect the best.  But who is ultimately to blame for their poor performance?  Unfortunately, we are.  We’re the ones who elected them to office.