Rep. James P. Moran is calling it quits after 12 terms, a tacit concession that Democrats won’t win back the House in November. Without the perks and prestige that go with a committee chairman’s gavel, it’s no fun for the gentleman from Virginia. Not having to face the voters again is liberating.
Now Mr. Moran, who has represented Virginia’s 8th Congressional District since 1991, can say what he really thinks (not that he has ever been particularly reluctant to let it all hang out). He’s telling financially strapped taxpayers that he doesn’t think we have been paying him and his Capitol Hill colleagues a decent wage. “I think the American people should know,” he told CQ Roll Call, “that members of Congress are underpaid.”
He’s miffed that the Republican legislative appropriations bill introduced last week would keep in place a pay freeze that has been in effect for four years. It set the annual salary of senators and members of the House at $174,000.
Under Obamanomics, a steady salary is highly desirable. The average American has watched his wealth evaporate. The latest Census Bureau data show the median household income fell 4.9 percent to $51,017, which is a 4.9 percent pay cut from the $53,644 earned before Mr. Obama was inaugurated. Over this period, Congress gave itself a 2.8 percent raise.
Though he’s disappointed, Mr. Moran’s paycheck has grown 39 percent since he was first elected, far outpacing the median income growth. He’s still not satisfied. “I understand that it’s widely felt that [members of Congress] underperform,” says Mr. Moran, “but the fact is that [Congress] is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” But since the past few years have seen a disappointing performance for the “largest economic entity,” shouldn’t that compel a pay cut for the directors who let it happen? A board in the private sector that racked up $17.6 trillion in debt would get new jobs with a mop and a bucket.
The notion that big-spending members of Congress are underpaid is belied by the likes of Reps. George Miller and Henry A. Waxman, who are retiring next year after 40 years in the House. It’s been a good living, with very little heavy lifting, and now the two California Democrats must find jobs.
Most members of Congress maintain two residences — one in their home district and one in Washington. Some frugal members keep a humble apartment in Washington; others sleep in their well-furnished offices and fly home on weekends. Mr. Moran, who has always lived in a Washington suburb, had no extra burden.
The “meager” congressional salary has not created a scarcity of Democrats willing to take his seat. When the entry deadline for the June 10 primary passed last month, no fewer than a dozen Democrats had filed to succeed him. They’re prepared to live on a $174,000 salary, even if they have to get an extra blanket and sleep on a single bed at the office.
We all would like to set our own salaries, but it would be a better idea for Congress to tie congressional and executive salaries to economic performance. Neither the president nor the Congress should prosper while the rest of America suffers the consequences of Washington’s disastrous economic policies. Since they asked for it, congressmen ought to be the first to take a hit in the pocketbook.