Last week, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told reporters from CQ Roll Call, “Members of Congress are underpaid,” saying the $174,000 salary does not afford congressmen to live comfortably in Washington, D.C.
President Obama implemented a salary freeze for congressmen earning more than $100,000 in 2009 near the end of the Great Recession. At the time, the White House released a statement saying the freeze was implemented to “stretch its budget to get more done for the country.” The statement also said, “families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.” The pay freeze has been renewed multiple times since 2009.
Moran justified his disagreement with the freeze by saying Congress is “the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”
Don’t get me wrong; I know living in D.C. is not inexpensive. Upon looking into real estate in the area, I found the average two bedroom apartment to be priced between $3,500 and $5,000 —up to $60,000 each year. Once the price required to maintain housing in their home district is added to that, on top of other expenses, a Congressman’s budget could be quite tight.
Well, Rep. Moran, welcome to the lifestyle of the American people.
According to the Social Security Administration, the average American made $44,321 in 2012, about 25 percent of Moran’s salary. The average American could not begin to afford a cramped one-bedroom apartment in D.C.—about $2,500 per month—let alone a two-bedroom.
Regardless, we can all generally agree members of Congress are not “average people.” We elect them to make decisions regarding the governing of the country. No, they are not an accurate representation of the typical American. However, they are a public servant, meant to perform tasks for the greater good of the country.
While governing the U.S. is obviously crucial, there are other professions that serve to benefit the country as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 780,000 police officers were employed in 2012, and their average salary was nearly $57,000 per year. In the same year, over 300,000 firefighters were employed, not including those working on a volunteer basis, making only $48,270 per year. I’m not going to pose an argument about who works harder, but let me put it this way—police officers and firefighters do a public service and risk their lives far more than members of Congress.
My advice to Moran—as well as all congressmen and congresswomen in general—is this: stop looking at your position as a place on “the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” That viewpoint is probably one of the many reasons Americans greatly distrust Congress. Look at your job as an opportunity to better the country. If you’d like a pay raise, leave the decision to the American people. If we elected you to represent us, we should probably have a say in your salary. Just don’t be surprised if that fails miserably. According to a Gallup poll taken in March, only 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress.