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Members of Congress are getting richer while the average American isn't. Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post reports that between 1984 and 2009, while the median wealth of American households edged down from $20,600 to $20,500, the median wealth of a member of the House of Representatives grew from $280,000 to $725,000 (in inflation-adjusted dollars and excluding home equity in both cases). That means the average member of Congress went from being 13.6 times as wealthy as the average American to being 35 times as wealthy.

It's not that members of Congress are earning so much more money than they were in the past—in fact, House pay has declined since 1977—but that the people running for and being elected are a lot richer than they used to be. More rich people, fewer blue-collar workers. It's tough to nail down exactly how and to what extent that affects the day to day workings of Congress:

But a person’s financial circumstances certainly affect a person’s political outlook. For example, people identified as lower or middle class have been more likely to see income inequality as a problem and to favor redistribution of income, according to figures from the General Social Survey. [...]

A representative’s occupation before being elected influences how liberal or conservative he or she is in voting, according to an analysis of more than 50 years of congressional votes by Duke University professor Nick Carnes.

In order from most conservative to most liberal: farm owners; businesspeople such as bankers or insurance executives; private-sector professionals such as doctors, engineers and architects; lawyers; service-based professionals such as teachers and social workers; politicians; and blue-collar workers, according to the analysis, which is being published in Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Surprise! When you have a government made up of rich people and people whose financial lives are defined by what they own, it turns out that you have a government that reflects the interests and beliefs of the ownership class. There are, of course, exceptions, rich people who nonetheless care passionately about the wellbeing of working people or blue-collar workers who believe they will shortly own their own plumbing businesses and therefore need to care most about rich people, but on average, not so much.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 08:51 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  That's About Last on the List of Important Factors (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, webranding

    that make government a representative of global ownership instead of the American people.

    The criminally insane information environment our system creates in this country is the biggest factor, and a portion of that is the need to raise vast tribute monies to conduct the people's campaign business to get into office. The chance to retire to a rich private sector job after elected office is the other big factor.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 08:58:18 AM PST

    •  Hmmmm... (0+ / 0-)

      I wonder what would happen if we could restrict the influence of money in our electoral process.....

      We could call it something like "Campaign Finance Reform"...or have I actually heard of something like this?

      That said, I am certain such an idea is bound to be laughed out of Washington DC as preposterous.

      On a side note, the republican agenda since the appointment of Bush as president has been largely about eliminating all actual functions of government while retaining only the waste, fraud, and corruption.

    •  Alan Grayson ABC News (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I was sickened last night by the ABC news report on the multi-millionaires of congress, and they focused on Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry.
      But what really got me angry was among photos of the other mega wealthy members, they showed a photo of Alan Grayson!!!
      Not only is he not a member of congress, but he is one of us 99%ers.  How dare they associate a great progressive with those rich a&&hole 1%

      by coonsey on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 04:56:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  No. (0+ / 0-)

    [to answer your question]

    Also, alot of the wealth congresscritters accumulate while in office is apparently due in large part to insider trading, or insider knowledge.

    The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

    by dfarrah on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 09:01:39 AM PST

  •  I Often Joke I Think We Ought To Just (0+ / 0-)

    pull names out of a hat to determine who serves in Congress. IMHO there might be a lot of low information voters, but it is my experience the vast majority of our population isn't stupid. One example I use is I go to this rural pub, only place I can throw steel tip darts.

    Most of the people there are farmers. Most don't have a college degree. But talk to them and they are pretty sharp people. Heck farming in 2011 is kind of a complex enterprise.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 09:03:54 AM PST

    •  Worse than jury duty! (0+ / 0-)

      Man... I can't do anything for the next several weeks...I was conscripted into Public Service. I have to be a Senator and review laws and crap.

      Who cares about this? I have a business to run.

      And the country would likely end up in as shoddy condition as it is now.

  •  Reading about Nancy Pelosi yesterday vacationing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maryabein, freedapeople, 3goldens

    in Hawaii, paying $10,000. per night for her suite, and yet costing the local government thousands for her police protection.....

    The automatic raises congress voted themselves........

    The junkets they go on, traveling in the military's luxury jets, with a doctor on board to care for their ills..........

    That now every single senator in addition to their own offices has their own "hidey hole" suite...

    I could just go on and on.

    We have a congress whether Dem or Rep that is out of touch with what is going on in this country.

    Rhetoric has to be matched with actions. "Only actions don't lie."

    by allenjo on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 09:17:01 AM PST

    •  Fox News, no doubt. (0+ / 0-)

      Did they mention how many people she was hosting in her "suite" or if she gets a discount since she's gone to the same place years in a row.

      Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

      by kck on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 10:06:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  and honestly... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wishingwell, niemann

      none of that would bother me in the least if congress was actualy congressing for the people. the worker is worth his wages, and I can't imagine being part of a properly functioning congress would be an easy job.

      but it isn't functional. at all. they don't govern, they cut deals and play games and hurt the american people with thier agendas, inaction, and gridlock.

      I'm thinking we make 75% of congress' salary contingent merit based. put a question on the ballot at the end of the term that says simply "did the congressman earn his wages?" let the people vote on whether or not to pay the crooks.

      of course, since most of them are independently wealthy and make thier primary income from insider trading while in office, that would probably not help much.

      "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." - Henry Ford

      by sixeight120bpm on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:00:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good idea. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        I'm thinking we make 75% of congress' salary contingent merit based.

        They insist that teachers, for example, be paid on the outcomes of their labor.  Why not for them too?

        Do a good job?  Earn your pay.  Do a lousy job?  You get less pay.

        But of course the biggest clause inserted by Congress into any statement of principles is "except for us."

        •  Hmm....Could tie it to unemployment rate (0+ / 0-)

          and median income.  Maybe add in a "Life expectancy" bonus for good news on that front...

        •  thanks for highlighting my typo there... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          lol, I shouldn't try to type after a long day at work.

          "contingent" was supposed to be removed, but apparently i didn't delete it hard enough.

          you make a good point though, if its good enough for teachers, then surely its good enough for congress.

          "There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible." - Henry Ford

          by sixeight120bpm on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:21:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Salary isn't the problem, and salary isn't (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        niemann, SoCaliana, wsexson

        making Congresscritters rich.

        Nancy Pelosi isn't worth $58 million because of her Congressional salary.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:35:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Leverage isn't in the salary (0+ / 0-)

        They make money in so many different ways. I believe Lieberman accumulated over 20 million in net worth over his career. That didn't come from frugal living.

        Leverage only comes when K street is turned into a moat. House the congress people in barracks just like the military. 3 Hots and a Cot. Everything that they send out or get in is tightly monitored.

        Relocating it to the Mohave desert works for me. It gets up to 135F or so during the summer. Make them work 200 days a year instead of 110 and by God they will be the first to vote for term limits.

        Also , the staff has to be locked down too. International observers in conference mark-ups all in black just to feed  the tin hat  folks constant need for validation. Any violation of the ethics rules that will be enforced by any means necessary. Bonuses will be earned by ratting out their "friends".

        Punishment is a refreshing 5 mile hike in the desert with just 5 ounces of water. That's a good lesson for them because that's what people have to do with their money to stay alive thanks to the policies they pass that only favor people they know personally.

        If one has never been to any desert, walking 3/4s of a mile in blinding heat is like a ten mile hard  run uphill  on a warm and shitty day. Plus it's dead silent until big black flies buzz right into your ear. There is the Noon Flying Red Ant Attack-a-palooza. "It's lunch time".  They bite too. Hard. Then you have your wind storms, stepping into hollowed out areas where snakes burrow to get away from the heat. One is always pleasantly surprised when the next step is on solid sand.

        Don't disturb the sidewinder rattle snakes that sleep on the tracks at night. Of course they have a perfect skin camouflage so one won't notice them in the early morning. One old was seen briefing some young people; "don't pick anything up out here no matter what you think it is, because what comes after it will be very shitty with you".

        Snakes walking with snakes. It's perfect

        C-Span will be the ultimate reality TV. It will surpass all other reality show programming , especially if they get a guy who speaks "golf" ...O.k, we have Senator AL Franken, visibly shaking as he walks up to rookie Senator Rand Paul . JHC, look at Paul sweat and he hasn't even seen Franken yet.

         Hold it. Hold it.  Is that a can of pepper spray in Senator Frankens hand? Why yes it is. Ok get set folks and lay your money down. Franken has gone heat insane and Paul is going to feel it.  Franken is coming up from the rear giving Paul no chance to react and...sorry folks we have to pay some bills here with the new set-up and all. We will record anything that happens for your viewing pleasure when we come back complete with blow by blow commentary that you have come to respect from C-Span. (Snort)  

    •  amen (0+ / 0-)


      by coonsey on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 04:58:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Look at NH's (0+ / 0-)

    state legislature.  Serving for $200 per two years, only those who as my friend says are "rich, retired, or nuts" can do it.  Getting elected doesn't cost as much, but it turns out that most people have to be well off.

     NH  is the least corrupt state  in the nation.

    I think many congresspeople are rich to begin with and use the office to protect those interests. Some, such as former US Rep Carol Shea-Porter, do or did not.

    It is up to us to vet reps at all levels and make sure they are working for the people.  But the people also have to work for them, too, so they can get elected.

  •  Running for Congress is a full time job (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew C White

    If you do not hold political office already who can take the time to run for Congress if you work a normal 40-50/hrs a week in a regular job? In addition to the advantage of being able to seed the financing of your campaign with your own money, only affluent people can take a sabbatical for a year to run for Congress.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Tue Dec 27, 2011 at 12:22:28 PM PST

  •  Congress needs a new pay plan (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mapamp, pdx kirk, tmo, wishingwell, niemann

    Members of Congress should be paid the median salary for their district.  Betcha you'd see the economy improve real fast then!

    "We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom." - Kodos

    by Jon Stafford on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 12:48:31 PM PST

    •  Problem isn't congressional pay it's the extras (4+ / 0-)

      These guys get financial advice, insider tips, and all sorts of other perks that can't be gotten by us proles for love or money.  And of course if they lose or retire they can work as a high paid lobbyist for the rest of their lives.

      I think they should be paid what they are paid but something needs to be done about the other stuff they get.  Serving your country in a political position should NOT be a means of just getting richer.

      In the sea, Biscayne, there prinks
      The young emerald evening star,
      Good light for drunkards, poets, widows,
      And ladies soon to be married.

      by looty on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:03:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's also that it really helps to be rich (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        needtovent, looty

        when running for congress, too.  Can both dig into your own coffers (Or "loan" yourself money, and then "repay" it once you're established, and are getting donations), and probably easier to get bribes...err..."donations" from your fellow affluent people as well.

  •  The House is supposed to reflect the people (8+ / 0-)


    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 12:50:49 PM PST

  •  What's all the fuss about? Who are you going (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to hire to administer your oligarchy....poor people?

    All upcoming GOP debates will be held at venues with a stage trapdoor, so that the candidates can appear to all pile out of the same tiny car.

    by jazzmaniac on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 12:51:42 PM PST

  •  USA Today Headline Features Toll Gov't Workers (0+ / 0-)

    take on taxpayers for their generous benefits.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 12:53:07 PM PST

  •  What disturbs me more than the high number who are (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flying Goat, Dburn

    rich when they run for office, is the number who BECOME rich while they are in office.  I have no doubt that insider trading (which would be a crime for anyone else) accounts for some of the increase in richess, but how much more is simple bribery? We'll never know thanks to the laws providing cover for secret campaign contributions.

    Would term limits help?

    Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction. -- Blaise Pascal

    by RJDixon74135 on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 12:56:48 PM PST

    •  You have to love the "Blind Trust" excuse too (0+ / 0-)

      Right, like a Congress critter is not going to call his "Trust Manager" with the doings of the day that will make headlines tomorrow. They all know what to do with inside information.

  •  Is This News? (0+ / 0-)

    How is this different from any of the other 'professions' (i.e. law, medicine, etc.)?

    You could say the same thing about your doctor or lawyer.  There's no need to focus just on the Congress -- it's a major issue throughout our increasingly stratified society.

  •  A small quibble . . . . (0+ / 0-)

    which does not in any way negate the analytical point made:  "median" does not equal "average."  In fact the two could be vastly different (but my guess would be not in this case given the sample size of both populations).  

    Live simply, live fully.

    by Idaho Guy on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:02:56 PM PST

  •  A seat in Congress confers immunity under ethics (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dburn, PsychoSavannah

    rules to practice insider trading. According to Peter Schweitzer, Congressional members routinely make personal investment decisions correlated to anticipated legislative outcomes, such as happened with the bank bailout and the health insurance bill. The most telling data about your delegation are their investment history and the identity of their campaign finance team.

  •  Take this fact and run with it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCaliana, Dburn

    I have never understood the seeming reluctance of the 99% to point out the fact congress legislates almost exclusively to serve their own personal interests. Every time they bristle at raising taxes on the 1%  the argument should be made that its entirely self serving. They aren't even serving their corporate puppet masters as much as they are personally serving themselves. There is a lot of hay to make here, why isn't it being made?

  •  To that brilliant Jack-ss on CNBC yesterday... (0+ / 0-)

    About cutting Government Jobs as they are now after the Fed Jobs.....I will vote to cut Fed jobs when you Jack_ sses
    stop giving out ridiculous bonuses on Wall Street.  Stop going after the workers in the U.S. and trying to send up the Unemployment number even higher.  Now that the Unemployment numbers are coming down a little you Wall Street _ _ sholes cannot stand it  because it  makes Obama seem more electable.

  •  Maximum pay cap (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There must be a maximum pay cap put in place just like the minimum wage rate.  Set up several tiers and define how much pay/salary can be earned.  No matter what you do, at some point you reach a point where you don't need more just because you are lucky.

  •  Does this net worth include their pension? (0+ / 0-)

    I doubt it...
    I don't know exactly what a Congressman expects to receive, but a pension yielding $5000/month for a man 62 years old is worth almost a million bucks.

    Don't be a DON'T-DO... Be a DO-DO!

    by godwhataklutz on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 01:57:55 PM PST

  •  Used to be that wealth was a disqualification (0+ / 0-)

    in the first half of the 19th century.

    Then the ideal background for an aspiring politician was to be born in a log cabin.

    Gasoline made from the tar sands gives a Toyota Prius the same impact on climate as a Hummer using gasoline made from oil. ~ Al Gore

    by Lefty Coaster on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 02:08:40 PM PST

  •  I still don't understand why (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PsychoSavannah, greengemini, wsexson

    Congresspeople and Senators are allowed to own stock. They make the rules for commerce. They award contracts. This is like letting umpires and referees bet on the games they officiate. Unbelievable.

    I'm no philosopher, I am no poet, I'm just trying to help you out - Gomez (from the song Hamoa Beach)

    by jhecht on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 02:17:33 PM PST

  •  NYU prof Ferdinand Lundberg... (0+ / 0-)

    looked at this decades ago in his "The Rich and the Super-Rich," published in 1964.  He suggested granting tax-free salaries to reps of $1 million, per annum, senators $2 million, and president $4 million.  Any additional money that went to them would be considered a bribe.

    The last sound on earth will be the squawk of an optimist.

    by CT yanqui on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 02:35:21 PM PST

  •  Facebooked. Thanks. nt (0+ / 0-)

    Poverty = politics.

    by Renee on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 02:35:28 PM PST

  •  Congress gets richer (0+ / 0-)

    Looks like something OWS should be involved in.

    - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

    by r2did2 on Wed Dec 28, 2011 at 02:43:45 PM PST

  •  With all the insider trading they're allowed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to do, I don't doubt that they're getting richer, not to mention the fact that they can vote themselves a pay increase whenever they feel like it.

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