Does your Member of Congress represent you?
The English began experimenting in earnest with democracy during the 17th century, a time of civil war and of great upheaval in politics and in religion. Towards the end of that momentous century, John Locke wrote a book about democracy as Englishmen understood it at the time. He advocated a representative system. Some of what he said is still of very important.
Locke observes that we can trust our representatives to legislate in our interests if they are going to be subject to the rules they make for us. An elected official represents me when the rules he makes for me also apply to her. If the representative's interests are the same as those of the voters and if the burdens the voters bear will also have to be borne by the representative, we can trust them to do in our stead what we would do ourselves, if it were up to us to make laws.
That observation gives us a clear standard by which we can judge whether the person we elected represents us or is, instead, on his own parade and in pursuit of his private interests. Does your representative assume the burdens he imposes on you?
We have a clear answer to those questions and the answer is negative. Congress imposes burdens on us they do not impose on themselves.
Let's look at healthcare. Members of Congress, like the majority of all federal employees, may elect to enroll in the federal health care plan. They are entitled to continue under this health care plan after retirement – unlike most other employees in the United States. Once most of us retire, we lose health insurance. Federal employees tend to pay slightly more for their health insurance than employees in the private sector. However “approximately 3/4 of all workers in private industry had no choice in medical insurance plan, either because they were not offered a plan (30%) or because they were offered only one plan (44%) while many participants of the federal health insurance had a wide choice of different plans.”
Members of Congress have health insurance. Almost a third of their constituents do not. In the near future some of us may well lose our current health insurance, or lose benefits, or have to pay higher premiums. There are no prospects for such changes to the insurance of members of Congress.
When it comes to pensions, “Members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50, but only if they've completed 20 years of service. Members are eligible at any age after completing 25 years of service or after they reach the age of 62." Please also note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to even receive a pension. How many persons do you know who can work for 20 years and then retire at 50?
The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
According to the Congressional Research Service, "413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 …were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members who had retired received…an annual pension of $35,952 in 2006."
Not all Americans who work all their lives receive a pension at retirement or one that is as generous as those given to Congress persons.
Members of Congress do not get lavish benefits. But their benefits are better than that of many of their constituents. More seriously, they assure benefits for themselves while many of their constituents don't receive any.
They are not good representatives of the people that vote them into office.We should insist that when Congress cuts benefits to citizens, they also cut benefits for themselves. They should not vote themselves benefits that their fellow citizens do not have.