Congressional pay and benefits come at taxpayer expense. Congress is allowed to vote themselves pay raises. The 27th Amendment mandates pay raises do not take effect until the next Congress is sworn in. So, for a Congressperson to obtain a pay raise they have to be re-elected.
Even so, average voters look at the current economy and wonder why Congress votes themselves pay raises, while they do little or nothing to help their constituents find jobs or receive unemployment benefits.
This all begs the question: how much does the average member of Congress paid per year?
In 2010 and 2011, the average pay is $174,000. Leadership positions pay higher, with the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader making over $210,000 a year. These salary figures come out to $95.8 million dollars for all 541 members of Congress.
There are six members of Congress who hold committee positions and can debate on the floor, but who do not have voting power. So for a Congress that doesn’t work, we’re paying out $95.8 million in salaries, and that’s before we get into benefits, perks and retirement wages.
We’ve all heard about the Congressional Health Care plan, not to mention their travel plans, security details and personal spending accounts. How much do these benefits and perks cost taxpayers in addition to the above salaries?
In Fiscal Year 2010 (Oct 1 through Sept 30 of the following year), these programs accounted for $4.66 Billion in taxpayer funds. Compared to the national budget, the total of $4.74 Billion is a drop in the bucket, but even so when someone sees these salaries they begin to wonder why members of Congress are paid so much for doing so little to help the people who pay their salaries.
These figures don’t count the retirement plans or salaries paid to former members of Congress. If a member of Congress serves for at least five years, be it in the Senate or the House of Representatives, they receive full pay and health benefits for life. The figures for this type of pay are not easily accessible, as they are muddled in with private insurance and other pay wages.
The estimates for these benefits were between $500 million and $1.2 billion. That’s a wide range, but there are people receiving pay that are not former legislatures. The wives of prominent Senators Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy receive a reduced rate of pay under the “survivor benefit” plan. They can still access the health benefits, but receive between 50 and 75 percent of their late husbands salaries.
This provides a rough estimate of $6 billion per year spent on Congressional pay and benefits.
The question we should ask ourselves is whether or not this is money well spent.