Raising Congress' pay gives more opportunities to future legislators

While browsing through Facebook, at least once a week I see a political cartoon on my newsfeed that goes like this: "Congress cut funding to (senior citizens/veterans/the poor/etc.), and they believe they want a raise. $174,000 is plenty enough, they don't deserve a cent more!"

The problem with this logic is seeing a raise for members of Congress as rewarding Washington fat cats. In truth, one of the main reasons that Washington is full of fat cats is because pay for representatives and senators is so low. Why? Because only the rich can afford to be members of Congress.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, "the median net worth of a member of Congress was $1,029,505 in 2013... compared with an average American household’s median net worth of $56,355... The majority of members of Congress are millionaires — 271 of the 533 members currently in office, or 50.8 percent."

Now, these startling statistics seem to make the case that Congress doesn't need a raise, but on the contrary, it showcases how Congress has now become an elitist institution. In order to be a Congress member, a citizen not only needs a residence within their home district, but also in Washington D.C., one of the priciest real estate markets in America.

This financial constraint, added with the fact that it is nearly impossible to have another job to offset this cost, makes being a Congress member impractical, if not impossible, for most Americans. The end result is that only those who are already rich can afford to be in Congress. This, among other factors, leads to the mess of a Congress we have today.

When only the rich control Congress, the entire legislative branch stops being representative of the American people. No wonder Congress cuts funding for senior citizens living check-to-check on Social Security, or homeless veterans dealing with disability wounds from the battlefield, or the working poor surviving on food stamps. Most current Congress members never had to go through these struggles, and those that have can't afford to be in Congress.

In this particular case, we need to think of Congress as a business, like Walmart. As the United State's largest private employer, Walmart is well know for paying almost criminally low wages, but recently the company announced that it will raise hourly pay for all workers to $9. Now, Walmart is not raising salaries to reward every employee, including the lazy ones, instead, they are trying to bring in more productive, talented and experienced workers.

Likewise, we wouldn't be raising Congress members wages to reward the unproductive members of Congress like Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME). We would be raising the standard salary for the job of being a Congress member, hopefully to attract better talent, attain a more representative body and give every citizen at least the opportunity to represent their neighbors and their country.

It is completely understandable to be frustrated by the current Congress. They are unproductive, unrepresentative and lazy. Raising Congress's wage is not about them. It is about opening the locked door for a better, future Congress.

Mike Smith is a sophomore majoring in economics.

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