Elise Patkotak: Give members of Congress their due

By ELISE PATKOTAKMarch 5, 2013 

If government bureaucrats functioned at the same level of the US Congress, even their unions would not be able to save their jobs. So why are we still paying Congressional salaries?

Unless something intelligent comes out of Congress in the very near future (and seriously, what are the chances of that happening?), a lot of people are going to be out of work or on shortened workweeks. They will suddenly find themselves with a paycheck that doesn't cover the bills. Welcome to sequestration. Congressmen and women, however, will continue to receive their salaries and platinum plan health benefits. And that's just wrong.

The idea of less air traffic controllers to keep planes from crashing, less intelligence sources to keep us apprised of future terrorist attacks, and reduced health care for the men and women we sent to those endless and fruitless wars in the Middle East, is not only disheartening but scary. Frankly, if I had to choose, I'd rather give a vet the money needed to replace his blown off leg than use it as salary for some politician who hasn't done his job.

Washington, D.C., is currently a town of finger pointing. It's the Republicans' fault. No, it's the Democrats. No, it's the Tea Party. No, it's the Tories! The Whigs! The nearest we can come to the truth is attributing it to the Know Nothing Party which seemingly covers every party in power in America today.

Middle-class Americans have been clinging by their fingertips to the rungs of the upwardly mobile ladder. They lived through a financial crisis caused by Wall Street and bankers' greed and spent years waiting for even one of the people responsible for the economic collapse to be brought to justice. It hasn't happened. The rich are even richer and the middle class is immensely poorer. Want to know how rich? According to New York Magazine, in 2012, Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave over $54 million to conservative candidates and super-PACS. On December 18, 2012, he was paid a special dividend by his company of over $1 billion.

But for a brief second there was a glimmer of hope for the middle class. The last financial quarter showed an economy inching back slowly. Maybe you missed that announcement because you were too busy trying to find a second or third job to pay the bills. Not to worry. Wall Street got the message. The Dow Jones is up in heady territory. Stockbrokers, investors and bankers are enjoying work again.

But Congress has snatched even that small economic bump from the Americans they purport to represent by failing in their most fundamental responsibility. If government workers lose their job, the effect will be felt by all of us because there will be less money in the economy, less purchasing, less sales. All of that will equal less need for products to be made, less need for salespeople to sell - well, you get the idea. We are an interconnected economy and if one falters, we all feel the results. Except for Wall Street and its banks and investment groups that are too big to fail because they have all the money the rest of us keep digging in our couch cushions to find.

I would like to think that if we told Congress they would get no pay and no benefits until they actually did their job and passed a budget, it would cause them to rethink their whole position on the matter. But the sad truth is that most of Congress, and almost the entirety of the Senate, are very wealthy people for whom their government paycheck is loose pocket change. If we hold their salaries from them, they can just resign, become lobbyists and never miss a mortgage payment. Or they can dig into their substantial assets, both in American and overseas accounts.

The people who were rich before are still rich now. Their personal finances are well sheltered and well hidden on some beautiful tropical island that Mr. Used-To-Be-Middle-Class will never be able to afford to visit. The middle class will see its savings quietly slip away to pay for today's necessities.

Congress isn't worth a bucket of warm spit nowadays. They should be paid accordingly.


Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.



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