[The] $1.1 trillion spending bill, would continue its tradition of compensating the family of a lawmaker who dies in office. “Tucked inside the legislation was a standard $174,000 bereavement payment to Beverly A. Young, the widow of C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.),” he noted.The practice is bipartisan; the widow of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg was the previous recipient. A bill to end the tradition was introduced last year by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), though it seems an uphill battle.
In national terms this is, like most congressional perks, a microscopic amount of money. But do the families of staff members get the same treatment? Does Congress grant it to any other federal employees, or only to the single collection of government employees most likely to already be millionaires? Why the constant pressure to means test Social Security, but not congressional benefits? Surely, each one of them is capable of determining their own life insurance needs without special congressional intervention?
Our national inclination should be to take care of families that have suffered hardship out of basic human decency. But we don't, and in fact how much we should even try has been the subject of frothing, increasingly bitter debate for decades now—the most recent sniffling is over whether or not Congress should help subsidize health care for their very own staff, for example, or whether all the people working for them can go to hell because Freedom. (You might think that the current Congress' notorious lack of concern for the poor is based on the usual lack of empathy, an inability to identify with the hardships of people they never meet and do not break bread with; the health care fiasco seems to indicate they cannot even identify with the hardships of the people who have to write their own press releases. There might as well be a sign, You must make exactly this much money before I will give a damn about you.)
Rep. Bill Young had been in Congress since 1971; he would have been able to plan for (both of) his family's needs for, literally, decades. Sen. Lautenberg died a multimillionaire; again, no hardships there. While Congress bickers over how much the federal government should assist hurricane victims, or should assist their own employees, or holds endless debates over whether the long-term unemployed ought to be told to go to hell, and at what dates, they never seem to have any difficulty easing their own personal hardships. It just seems a bit gauche.