- - Monday, May 25, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s Memorial Day, a solemn day recognizing America’s war dead. These are the people who literally gave all in service to our nation and in the fight for freedom — our fallen heroes.

While we may disagree from time to time about political issues, there’s one thing I know we all understand: none of our loved ones put on a uniform and marched out to face our enemies so America’s politicians could turn this great nation into their own personal taxpayer-funded slush fund.

I’m happy to tell you last week there was an indication we may be about to change that.

In this space a few weeks ago, I sounded the alarm about the political class’ intention to save Social Security by changing the rules and sacking the citizen for more money to cover up the government’s fiduciary malfeasance. Before allowing them to turn on us like vampires, I suggested this:

“If we are going to start means-testing to save Social Security from ruin, let’s start by having politicians and bureaucrats be the first to sacrifice. Let’s implement means-testing for the managers of the monster in Washington, and if they don’t fall under arbitrary level of income, then their pensions should be sent into an actual fund to save Social Security … .”

Fast-forward to last week, as the Rep. Jason Chaffetz-led House Oversight panel passed with a voice vote legislation to cap the expenses for ex-presidents who earn more than $400,000 a year, effectively establishing a means-test before we pump taxpayer dollars into the money pit of increasingly wealthy ex-presidents.

The Associated Press reports, “U.S. taxpayers paid a total of $3.5 million last year in pensions and benefits to the four living former presidents, including $1.3 million for Bush and $950,000 for Clinton, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Most of that money was for sprawling office space in Dallas and New York, respectively.”

“History shows that former presidents do very well financially after they leave office,” Mr. Chaffetz said in a statement before Tuesday’s vote, according to the Associated Press. “In fact all former presidents are millionaires, making it unlikely that they depend upon their taxpayer-funded allowance to make ends meet.”

Mr. Chaffetz is right, but this isn’t just an issue involving the small number of ex-presidents. The wealth of individual members of Congress is staggering, yet they seem to have overlooked including themselves in their plans for financial rehab.

Perhaps they’re handling the notion of pulling themselves off the public dole like one would an addiction — slowly but with purpose. Continuing to suck up taxpayer dollars when they themselves are filthy rich yet lecture us daily about wage gaps and social inequality can only be explained if they’re drunk or high.

We know the wealth ex-presidents jumps once they leave office, but what about members of Congress? Every year Roll Call reports on congressional wealth, informing us that in 2014, the combined net worth of members of Congress jumped $150 million to $2.1 billion. They note it took a net worth of $7.4 million to “crack the exclusive club” of Congress. Other gems from the Roll Call analysis:

There are “188 millionaires — about a third of Congress — up from 185 the previous year. The median lawmaker on our ranking has a minimum net worth of $456,522. The minimum net worth of the Senate is nearly $570 million, with 50 senators topping $1 million. The House has a minimum net worth of $1.53 billion, with at least 138 millionaires but a median of just $338,000.”

Once they leave Congress, these rather well-off individuals then tend to become lobbyists, making even more money than before. Breitbart reports, “In 1974, just 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, 50 percent of retiring senators and 42 percent of retiring House members stay in D.C. and become lobbyists. The more than 1,500 percent increase goes a long way toward explaining how an entrenched, permanent political class has risen in D.C.”

Not only a permanent political class, but even more wealth for a group already swimming in taxpayer dough. I genuinely appreciate Mr. Chaffetz’s efforts to end the presidential millionaire welfare paid for by taxpayers, but once that is passed (and it better pass), they need to extend the means-testing to themselves.

There has been lots of talk by Republicans condemning the Clinton Foundation for allegedly being more of a “slush fund” than a charitable endeavor. If the GOP members want to be taken seriously, it would serve them well to do more than point fingers. They should make a major commitment to ending the use our great nation as a personal ATM by everyone in national elected office.

Recognizing this is the least we can do for a nation that exists only because so many gave their lives protecting her promise and potential, and the freedom she makes possible. Honoring that sacrifice requires the GOP-led Congress to look at itself first when thinking about how we get ourselves out of the economic and national security messes politicians have thrust us into.

Tammy Bruce is a radio talk show host.

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