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How Would They Know?

December 4, 2017

By Bill Hohlfeld

I don’t know for a fact how you feel about it, but I, for one, am a bit tired of some of the most privileged people in the country

Bill Hohlfeld at the mic.

deciding what would be best for the rest of us. As of 2017, the base salary of a United States Senator is now a whopping 174,000 a year, unless of course you are the minority leader, the majority leader or the president pro tem. In that case, you’re doing a little better, and make $193,400. 

Now you might say that those numbers don’t really seem astronomical. But then again, that would depend upon whose salaries, benefits and working conditions you are comparing them to. Take for instance the recently disgraced and disinherited Matt Lauer. He was raking in $25,000,000 a year and taking a helicopter to work in the morning. So if we compare them to a media celebrity, sure, politicians are but pikers. But let’s not do that. Instead, let’s compare them to the rest of us mere mortals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I’m assuming is non-biased and non- politicized, the median personal income is $865 weekly for all full-time workers in 2017, which works out to $44,980 a year if (and we all know how big a word that is) you’ve worked all 52 weeks. The U.S Bureau of the Census claims annual real median personal income to be a slightly more realistic $31,099 in 2016. And, if we factor in the rate of inflation, American workers haven’t gotten a raise since 2008.

It’s true I was not a math major in school, so feel free to check my math, but the numbers I’m looking at tell me that a U.S. Senator makes from anywhere between 3.8  to 6.2 times as much as the average American worker. It seems to me that Senators are more than likely out of touch with the economic circumstances of their constituents. And, by the way, it’s not just about salary. There are a few other aspects to consider.

For instance, let’s look at vacation time. In 2016, the Senate was in session for a total of 165 days. To make it easier to wrap your head around that number, that means 33 weeks. Or, if you prefer, think of it like this; they get 19 weeks paid vacation. They’re absolute workaholics though when compared to the House of Representatives who were in session for a total of 131 days that same year, which is just a tad more than 26 weeks, which amounts to 6 months of vacation. Hmmm. How did you spend your two weeks?

Would you care to talk medical plans? It’s true. These hard working, poorly paid members of congress do have to pay out of pocket for their health care insurance. They get the dreaded Obamacare! But before you relegate them too quickly to the ranks of the proletariat, you should know that they receive a gold-level Obamacare policy. They also receive federal subsidies that cover 72 percent of the cost of the premiums. That adds up to less out-of-pocket expense that the average college graduate earning less than $30,00 a year. Feel free to translate the phrase “federal subsidy” into tax dollars, AKA your money. In addition, just in case their gold plan doesn’t quite cover their needs, they are also entitled to free medical outpatient services at nearby military facilities, regardless of whether or not they have ever served.

Then, of course, there is the issue of their retirement package. In our current economy, fewer than 1 out of every 4 American workers is able to rely on a defined benefit pension plan upon retirement. (a number that is closely linked to union membership) But don’t worry, because members of both houses of congress are among the lucky few.  A Senator need only serve one term of office to receive a pension, whereas a member of the House must serve at least three, and there is a formula for that entails years of service and highest salary. So the pensions have a wide range. A one term senator could receive as little as $16,000 a year (still not a bad little supplement) or a veteran member of the House with 30 years of service might pull down as much as $125,000 a year. Either way, nobody is eating cat food.

Finally, there are those really lucrative post senatorial careers. According to Robert Reich’s new documentary, “Saving Capitalism,” something I strongly recommend you put on your viewing list, just about half of the Senators who retire simply move over to K Street where they open up shop as lobbyists putting forth the agenda of everyone from the oil and gas companies to private correctional facilities. The median annual salary for that type of “work” is right around $119,500. That’s nice work if you can get it, and they usually can, because lobbying is all about access and who indeed has better access to Capitol Hill than those who have recently been there? All of that must be quite comforting in when the new normal is “unemployed people aged 45-54 were jobless for 45 weeks on average, and those 55 to 64 were jobless for 57 weeks, according to an October 2013 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

So the next time Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi get up and start spouting off about the needs of “ordinary” people or “average” Americans when it comes to tax reform, health care, pensions, or even the right of corporations to lobby, ask yourself how would they know? Then, ask them.

December 4, 2017

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