WPA Political Primer: Why is my representative making almost $200,000 per year?


So what does Congress do? And, what does the President do?

The Women’s Party of America has published a simple Political Primer that gives an overview of responsibilities. I also think it might be helpful to show the composition of Congress through the years. You’ll note that Congress decides who and what to pay for and yet, one might believe that deficits are built by the U.S. Presidents. There is no more powerful organization than Congress. They have the purse strings, decide what bills become law and they are also free from any arrest, even if they commit a crime (unless it’s a felony).

So why does Congress set their salaries so high and they still don’t have a balanced budget? The Constitution says Congress determines its pay. Perhaps Lord Acton’s observation in 1887 is one reason for the absurd salary, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

According to WalterDimmock.com, “Within the last 10 years (this post was written in 2008) Congress has raised their salaries 8 times for a total of 26%. While the lowest paid American Workers have only received 1 raise within the last 10 years.”

Dimmock offers great commentary on the subject of congressional salaries, “From 1789 to 1815 Congressmen received $6.00 daily, but only on the days they showed up.” The average salary in 1800 was about $16 a week.

How many days does the U.S. Congress meet during the year? It varies, but about 140 days. The average American Worker with one job works about 248 days (that excludes 12 PTO/holidays). Many congress people say they meet with constituents during the times they aren’t in session, but my guess is this is more for fundraising.

WalterDimmock.com says that in 1855, Congress raised their salaries to $3000 per year (not a stipend per day). “Then in 1865 they gave themselves a 66% increase to $5,000 annually. 6 years later they boosted their salaries another 50% to $7,500 per year. The American People became so outraged by the greed that congressmen were showing, that congress was forced to take a 33% paycut, which lasted 34 years.”

Congress would take two more paycuts, both during the Great Depression. I think it’s time for a fourth. Congress’ pay should be equal to the average American family’s pay which today is a little over $49,000. Don’t you think?