GUEST EDITORIAL: No hard times in Congress

The following editorial was published in the Jan. 3 edition of The Tribune, Seymour, Ind.:

At least one group of Americans has been profiting despite the faltering economy: members of the U.S. House of Representatives. They’re supposed to be the part of the government that’s “closest to the people.” But as the saying has it, they came to do good and stayed to do well. In their cases, mostly very well.

“Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home equity,” the Washington Post reported Dec. 26. By contrast, the typical American saw his “comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500.” The data is from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics at the University of Michigan.

That means the average representative’s net worth is 35 times that of the average American’s. This helps explain why Congress is so out of touch with the ordinary Americans they claim to represent and who in too many cases are suffering unemployment, foreclosures, even evictions. And it looks like the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to march to Capitol Hill.

America was founded by “citizen legislators” who took off a few weeks a year from their businesses or farms to ride on horseback or carriage to Congress, where their business was to preserve their country’s liberty.

The new report comes six weeks after a “60 Minutes” report detailing how members of Congress are effectively exempt from most insider-trading prohibitions for trading stocks, and have profited handsomely.

“If they were in the private sector, they would be doing 20 to 30 years” in prison, Nicholas Bavaro said; he’s president of Bavaro Benefit Advisors in Modesto, Calif. “This shows how the whole system is dysfunctional. They should have a Citizens Compensation Commission, like we have in California.”

Mr. Bavaro is right. A citizens panel should set the pay of members of Congress. Congress itself would have to vote it into existence. But its job would be to return congressional compensation to something more in line with that of the ordinary Americans whose taxes fund congressional paychecks.

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