Today unemployment tops 10.2%, the average household income continues its slow decline, and Americans face unprecedented debt, but on Capitol Hill, politicians continue to earn big as the economy recedes. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) has released a report showing that 237 members of congress—a full 44% of the legislative branch—are millionaires—based on a rough estimate of income and assets from 2008. This startling news begs the question, how closely do our legislators represent the people?
The baseline salary for all members of congress is $174,000 annually, an amount that is adjusted to inflation and cost of living and is five times higher than what the average American will earn. Members of the congress also receive premium health insurance and other benefits that are publicly funded. Despite these vast incentives, most lawmakers continue to invest and or work directly in the private sector, using their position of power to generate personal profit.
The second most common held stock among members of Congress is Bank of America, which received a $50.2b bailout over the last two years, meaning that some members saw direct financial benefits from their own legislation, while debt remains a salient feature of working-class life. Other popular investments were Wells Fargo, Citi Group, and Goldman Sachs, all institutions that received a federal bailout. The sixth most popular stock was Pfizer, the international pharmaceutical company responsible in part for the exorbitant cost of prescription medication in America. Can politicians make responsible decisions for the people with this degree of capitalist exploitation?
According to the report, the highest earning legislators were Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) with an estimated net worth of $251m, Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA) with $244.7m, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) with $214.5m, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) with $209.7m, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) with $208.8m. On average, senators are worth an estimated $1.79m and representatives are worth $622,254, though several members have assets values at less than zero. President Obama has a net worth of about $3,670,505. 1% of Americans are millionaires while more than half of the population will spend some point of their lives below the poverty line.
The numbers released by the CRP are based on public information by estimating the assets and income of each legislator to a minimum and maximum and then assuming the median. This means that Rep. Darrell Issa R-CA actual worth could be anywhere between $164,650,039 and $337,400,002, although the official estimate is placed at $251m. This final amount does not include personal residences and certain private assets, indicating that these estimates are significantly lower than a lawmakers actual net worth.
This report was released almost a year post facto and as the economy continues to exhibit the dismal symptoms of a depression, it is important to note who continues to earn in 2009. The CRP report represents the stark disparity between Americans and those elected to represent them, but because politicians continue to shield their finances, there is still data lacking that the voter needs to make informed and democratic decisions.
– Michaël Veremans