Earlier this month, it was reported that House Democrat’s are seeking to end the decade-long freeze on increases to congressional salaries. Naturally, Americans bristled at the idea of their lawmakers, more than half of whom can claim the title of “millionaire,” seeking a cost of living increase. With the base congressional salary hovering around $174,000 per year, it’s not surprising. It’s especially grating on the American psyche as so many members of congress have continued to rail against those in the upper tax brackets.
The arguments that have gone back and forth over the last week and the last decade are simply unnecessary when considering the true role of our elected representatives. What has become a fulltime job, between collecting a salary for two to six years and raising money to campaign, in order to keep said job, was never meant to be such. The grace of public service has been washed away by career politicians, whose primary skills lie in making promises and accusations.
An Alternate Solution
The very nature of a member of the House is found in its title: representative. These were meant to be the men and women, called by forces beyond their comprehension, chosen by their communities to represent their neighbors in Washington regarding matters of national interest. It was never meant to be a career, but a passing moment in time in which one of us stepped forth as our envoy to the rest of the country. But, through the pursuit of personal gain and the remarkable positioning of one’s self to be in a seat of concealed power, coupled with the dilution of each district’s voice through the consolidation of powers by political parties, we are left with careers politicians with no desire to be representatives.
With that said, I would like to provide an alternate solution, one that will help take us away from political grandstanding over pay raises: abolish congressional salaries. Really, get rid of pay for constitutional officers. Phase out congressional salaries over the next three terms for the House and after each sitting senator finishes out their current term.
What Kind of Men
Perhaps it is my general displeasure with Congress that I revel in suggesting that politicians should not receive payment for their services. With my innate opposition to authority, I genuinely do not believe that those who manipulate the laws of our country to suit their personal beliefs and networks should be paid, particularly with public money. I could be turned into a criminal overnight with the passage of an arbitrary law and so I would prefer not to reward those with such malicious potential.
But I am not the only one who thinks in this manner. I’ll allow Benjamin Franklin to explain:
Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money. Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honor that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it….
And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government and be your rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation, for their vanquished competitors, of the same spirit, and from the same motives, will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.
What Will They Say
Franklin’s prediction of the faults of men and salaried elected positions is almost frightening in its accuracy. There is no longer a nobility in carrying out one’s civic duty, but it could be restored. By phasing out congressional pay, we can weed out those for whom elected office no longer holds interest.
The torch will be passed over to those who truly wish to serve their communities, without reservation or malice. Some will stick around, to be sure, as their coffers are already lined to sustain their career. But what will they say, when they square off with someone who is not interested in a six-figure salary?