by James Bovard
Washington, DC, needs an emergency supply of snazzy sandwich boards announcing, “Will Legislate for Food.”
A hunger crisis on Capitol Hill gave congressional leaders no choice but to trample the Constitution.
Thanks to a backroom deal, House members can now claim automatic reimbursement of $258 a night for lodging expenses and $79 a day for meals in DC — even if they don’t spend a dime.
But though House members can pocket up to $34,000 a year in additional tax dollars, it’s not a pay raise because politicians are entitled to use false labels for everything they do.
There is a pity party in Washington: You weren’t invited, but you’ll pay the bill.
Members of Congress are whining that they receive only $174,000 a year — more than triple the average US salary and higher pay than 93% of Americans pocket.
And it is a part-time job: The House of Representatives will be in session just 117 days this year.
That didn’t stop Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from moaning that “Congress structures itself to exclude and push out the few working class people who *do* get elected.”
Congressional salaries are far higher than average Americans’ pay in part to cover the extra cost of spending time in Washington. But House members wanted more.
After Republicans captured the House majority in November, the Democrat-controlled House Administration Committee rushed through a provision in December to boost members’ pay.
The Constitution’s 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, though, prohibits any law “varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives” from taking effect “until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
The new windfall was labeled “reimbursements” and took effect thanks to a tweak in the Members’ Congressional Handbook.
There was no debate or vote on the House floor; neither the Senate nor the president had a say in the matter.
Former Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) denounced the “clandestine secrecy” of the process.
In a press conference Friday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), House Democratic leader, denied any pay raise occurred: It was just “reimbursement.”
Jeffries used the word “bipartisan” five times in one minute to sanctify the new measure.
Inside the Beltway, “bipartisan” bestows instant absolution. House Republican leaders did not oppose the windfall.
Congress wouldn’t dare openly hike its own pay because only 20% approve of how Congress is handling its job (78% disapprove).
So congressional leadership is portraying the new windfall as practically a typo on W-2 forms.
The up-to-$34,000-a-year benefit is part of a budget boost to “provide a ‘living wage,’” according to a summary from House Appropriations Committee Democrats.
The new benefit system “does not require the submission of receipts to reduce burdens and address the potential security risks,” ruled the House’s chief administrative officer.
Congress last year bankrolled hiring 87,000 new IRS agents and employees to audit Americans’ 1040 forms and shake more money out of their bank accounts.
The new benefits are tax-free, so House members can pocket the pre-tax equivalent of $50,000 in extra income based solely on unverified claims.
The House report bewailed that “the personal benefits of winning a seat in Congress have . . . decreased.”
But that was because Congress’ reckless deficit spending helped wreck the value of the dollar, which has fallen 40% since the last pay raise Congress gave itself in 2009.
The report claimed permitting reimbursement would “modernize” the pay system.
Was the goal to have congressional compensation harmonize with the nationwide epidemic of shoplifting?
The covert pay raise is akin to hiring a store clerk who then announces he is entitled to pilfer cash registers to get his lunch money.
How much would you pay a lawyer who didn’t bother reading the contracts he signed on your behalf? Every year, Congress enacts multiple thousand-page legislative blunderbusses without bothering to read the text.
Most members of Congress are millionaires. Most members are also landlords, and there is no limit to the rent they pocket on top of their salary.
Nor is there any limit to the illicit profits they snare from insider stock trading — despite congressional leaders’ endless promises to end that crime spree.
The House report laments that “the decision to retire from Congress is sometimes driven by financial concerns.”
It didn’t mention representatives rushing to get rich by selling out America. Almost a hundred former members of Congress have registered as foreign agents.
That notorious revolving door inspired a Politico headline: “Want to be a ‘foreign agent’? Serve in Congress first.”
The report justified the compensation boost: “More candidates are willing to run for office if they see public service as an economically viable career.”
But the Founding Fathers didn’t intend for citizens to make “viable careers” from endlessly seeking coercive power over other Americans.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy should strike a blow for political decency by torpedoing the backdoor pay raise. Or do congressional Republicans believe they are entitled to free lunches on top of their $174,000 salaries?
I don’t want my name on an FBI terrorist watch list for inciting “contempt of Congress,” so here’s my compromise proposal: If Congress will balance the budget and stop violating the Constitution, it can spend my tax dollars to buy all the beer that representatives and senators can drink.
But Democrats only get Bud Light.
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.