For those that faithfully serve our country, leadership is something that is done always from the front. Leadership means having a 'do as I do,' mentality. In other words, followers do as leaders have done. However, to our nation’s leaders, it seems the prevalent view is a 'do as I say, not as I do' mentality. Nothing makes this point more poignant than the way congress has continued to recklessly spend and then tells veterans that they must take cuts in their benefits and retirement pay. It seems there is a growing deficit in the leadership of our country.
Over the past few decades congress has continued down this very precarious path. They create budgets that only increase America’s debt, now at over $17 trillion, and send our nation’s men and women off to fight while costing America $4 - $6 trillion. Then they take the money away from those that need it the most while ignoring this debt. Meanwhile, these same ‘leaders’ continue to enjoy generous benefits that average Americans can’t even imagine. Although congress’s approval rating of 9% is at an all-time low, this does not seem to affect their reckless acts and lack of leadership. They simply make more empty promises, spend millions on campaigns to get reelected, and then continue down the same path, regardless of political party.
If congress truly wanted to show fiscal responsibility and leadership, why didn’t they cut their own very generous pay and benefits instead of continuing to whittle away at those that have sacrificed so much for our country? What adds insult to injury is that congressional members are overwhelmingly affluent, have automatic COLA increases unless they vote against it, and can retire earlier than even other federal workers. The chart provided compares key benefits across those in congress, civilian life and the military.
What is surprising about this growing problem is that some of our senior military officials and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have also jumped on the bandwagon. Perhaps this should not be a surprise since these same senior military officials have other priorities, and our secretary of defense has a net worth between $2.3 million to $10.9 million.
In the past, many Americans have had short memories and continued to elect these same officials while ignoring their actions. However, times are changing. Now under fire from constituents and veterans groups alike, some congressional members want to be reactive instead of proactive, and relook at cutting the COLA benefits of military retirees. Of course, this being an election year may be part of this reactive motivation.
The author believes it is time for congress to show true leadership and take at least a 10% cut in pay and retirement, and this pay should not be raised or restored until they balance the budget and begin to reduce the deficit for five consecutive years. This would still mean that congressional members would be receiving over three times the annual pay for half the time worked compared to average Americans.
In addition, congress’s generous office budgets which range from $1.27 million to $1.54 million for house members, to $2.96 million to $4.65 million for senate members are outrages. While most Americans are doing more for less, congress quietly gave out bonuses to staffers, and raised their pay an average of over 15% during the last quarter of 2012. Clearly, congress has too much money in their expense accounts. Their extravagant office budgets should be cut by at least 25%, and these generous benefits should also not be increased until the budget is balanced and there is a reduction in the deficit for five consecutive years.