What Does Your Congressman Actually Cost You?

Posted: Jul 25, 2019 10:59 AM
What Does Your Congressman Actually Cost You?

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Most of us don’t really think much about what it costs to keep Congress in business. They don’t seem to do much other than talk, and talk is normally pretty cheap.  Besides, since there are only 535 of them, whatever the cost, it’s got to be a small percentage of the federal budget, right?

Confined as I am by space and expertise, and their remarkable opacity in hiding actual costs, it’s impossible to identify precisely the cost for the care and feeding of  Congress.   For one thing, many of their direct costs are spread through a great host of departments - capitol police, cafeteria workers, mail rooms, tourist facilities, physical fitness trainers, and assorted other personnel, equipment, and amenities required to keep these elites properly pampered.

One example: the wonderful Library of Congress where the most important documents of our history reside was originally built so members of Congress could access all the collected knowledge in the world in one easy location.   Few Members, however, ever step into that sensational building.  Most aren’t interested in learning our history, only in making their own.

Other costs are easily recognized, but even more difficult to discern.  I’m talking about the costs associated with their ignorance, incompetence, and often reckless ideologies which make up the great bulk of our federal budget and for which Members of Congress are directly responsible.  

But let’s look at the costs we can identify with a few quick searches on Google.

Start with how much time they spend doing what we elected them to do — that is, working to make our lives better, safer, and easier through conceiving solutions, debating their merits, and turning them into legislation.

Given their responsibilities, they’re not paid much.  Given their productivity, however, they are grossly overpaid.

In 2018, out of 365 days in the year, they were in Washington DC a total of 138 days, supposedly working on the better, safer, easier theme.  The balance of the year they are in their districts campaigning, raising money, giving speeches, and kissing babies. 

For the 138 days last year they presumably worked for us, we handed them a paycheck of $174,000, or $1,260.86 per day. 

But to paraphrase the words of Porky Pig: "That’s not all, folks.”  On top of their base pay are other employee benefits; things like health care, retirement accounts, gym memberships, and more, which add about 40% to that $174,000 paycheck. 

So total taxpayer funded compensation to Members comes in around $130 million.   And that doesn’t count the 15% of their annual pay they can receive in “services rendered” to outside sources.   But wait, that’s just the beginning.

In addition to their total compensation and benefits, each member is provided an annual allowance to defray expenses, including office, staff, mail, etc.

On average, each member of Congress has a taxpayer-funded staff of around 18 people on the House side and 50 or so on the Senate side, with an average salary exceeding $60,000.  Most of the time, these staffers do the work that you and I elected our representatives to do. Things like research, resolving constituent problems, and making sure our districts and states gets the attention they should.

To cover all those staff and office expenses, each House member receives, on average, $1,268,520 for a combined total of $551,806,200.  Senators get, on average, $3,306,570 for a combined total of $330,657,000.

But to paraphrase Porky again, there’s still more.  Members of Congress sit on one or more committees - you know, the committees we occasionally see on TV where members grill witnesses on subjects they generally know little about, but for which they must still express keen interest and passionate beliefs.

These Congressional Committees also employ numerous staff.  Including those assigned from executive agencies to provide expertise and advice, there are roughly 3,000 committee staff on Capitol Hill.   Add to that 11,000 or so other staff spread around various law enforcement, budget, and research offices; the total number of employees beyond just personal and leadership staff balloons to something approaching 15,000 at an average salary of around $55,000, plus benefits.   That’s another approximately $1,000,000,000.

When you add it all up, the amount taxpayers spend for the care and feeding of Congressional-critters comes to around $2 billion.  That’s probably low, given how well Congress has hidden what they actually spend on themselves.  

Bottom line is this:  When you cast your vote next year, keep in mind the enormous price tag associated with that vote, and ask yourself, "Am I really getting my money’s worth?"

At a very low estimate of $2 billion, I’m pretty sure the answer won’t just be NO, but hell NO!