- - Thursday, April 30, 2020

The House of Representatives adjourned from their regular duties on March 14. Since that time, like much of America, individual House members have been home. Most have not spent any regular time in their office or with their staff, and certainly haven’t been voting on the nation’s business.

Are House members essential workers? A closer look at some essential workers may help answer that question.

Even people who are on lockdown in various states across the country have had to eat, so grocery stores have remained open. Grocery workers have been deemed essential workers. Day in and day out grocery store employees come in contact with hundreds of customers and co-workers, risking exposure to COVID-19. They take every reasonable precaution they can including wearing masks and gloves, continually disinfecting surfaces and practicing social distancing.

Grocery store stock clerks make an average of $10.87 per hour. For less than eleven bucks they risk their health daily because they are considered essential.

City and county governments all over America are trying to make certain that even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, basic services are still delivered to their residents. Streets must be maintained. Water and sewer must still flow. In some states snow has had to be cleared.

The average wage for public works laborers in the United States is $15.40 per hour. For less than $16 per hour these hard working Americans are risking their own well being to ensure that people just like you have the infrastructure necessary to survive. They are essential workers.

Despite most focus of the medical community being on coronavirus, reality dictates that heart attacks, strokes and unfortunate accidents all still happen. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and paramedics are the men and women that make sure the victims make it to the hospital with the best care possible en route. No one would argue that EMT’s and paramedics are essential workers. They risk everything to make sure those most in need of medical attention get it. Nationwide their average annual salary is a little over $38,000.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes more than that. In fact, her salary as speaker is $223,500. The base pay for all House members is $174,000 annually. Their job is to set the laws of the land, to shepherd our fine country and to make sure that the collective voice of the people is heard and acted upon.

As previously mentioned, however, Congress adjourned March 14. Originally they were scheduled to return in early or mid-April. That was delayed to April 23 as many parts of the country were put on COVID-19 lockdown. As April 23 approached, Nancy Pelosi announced Congress would not yet return. She cited the District of Columbia’s restrictions on more than 10 people gathering together as partial reasoning.

Meanwhile, Americans were being laid off from their employment at a rate not seen in 90 years. Not since the Great Depression, a decade before World War II, had the US seen tens of millions so rapidly expelled from work. Week by week the coronavirus took its toll on the work force. In just five weeks, 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.

For anyone not deemed an essential worker, the very real possibility exists that there will be no paycheck. If a person’s workplace is closed and they can’t do their job, it makes no sense for an employer to pay them.

Unless, of course, you are a member of the House of Representatives. They haven’t reported to work in weeks but that $174,000 salary keeps right on coming.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this week that Congress would return next Monday, May 4. On a conference call with her Democrat members her announcement was met with anger and frustration from several in the caucus. Multiple sources said Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida said it was “too dangerous” for representatives to return and work. Other Democratic House members wondered aloud on the call how they could take care of their families if they returned to Washington?

It’s not too dangerous for the woman packing my groceries for 11 bucks an hour, but it is too dangerous for members of Congress to come to Washington and deal with the fallout of a worldwide pandemic and economic shutdown? Pardon me?

As for House Members wondering how they could take care of their family, as it turned out, some of those complaining have no children, so apparently they feel the need to stay in their own district to tend to a spouse. Are these members of Congress aware that nurses and policeman and sewer workers all have families too? Were these representatives not aware when they ran for office that Congress’ work takes place in our nation’s capital?

After the outpouring of objection from her caucus, Mrs. Pelosi caved. On Tuesday she announced the House will not be convening next Monday after all. She cited comments by Dr. Brian Monahan, the U.S. Capitol physician, as her primary reason. Dr. Monahan indicated he thought there was a lot of work to do before Congress could return at full capacity.

Mrs. Pelosi apparently is using this to justify Congress remaining at zero capacity instead.

One has to wonder what she thought of Dr. Monahan’s comments that it could take “years” for Congress to return to normal. Will Mrs. Pelosi use that as justification to keep Congress at home indefinitely?

To his credit, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate majority leader, intends to convene the Senate next week regardless. He said, “It makes no sense for the U.S. Senate to sit on the sidelines while lots of other people are working to get us through this.”

If Mrs. Pelosi thinks it is too dangerous to reconvene the House and that their work is less essential than grocery clerks and public works employees, perhaps House members should be laid off until their services are deemed necessary and their work begins again. Maybe without an income 3.5 times what the average American earns, Congress would feel a little more like doing their job

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