Monday, January 14, 2008

Congressional Pay and Earmarks -- PJM

There seems to be a lot of angst today about the pay raise of $4,100 our U.S. Congressmen and Senators gave themselves. While it costs a lot of money to maintain two residences, one in D.C. or thereabouts and one in the home district, my objection isn't so much with what they make as it is with what they do, although given the actual number of days these folks work, they do get about $2,000 a day or something like that. If we as constituents established goals and objectives for these folks, I'm afraid they'd all get a failing grade. Let's see, what have they done to stop Social Security and Medicare from going broke? What have they done to increase our national security, to stem illegal immigration, to truly decrease our dependence on foreign oil anytime soon? Sounds like maybe a grade of D if we're being generous. Maybe someone should survey voters on the most important issues and set up a formal way of grading them. On the other hand, if you are Congressman Murtha of Pennsylvania, maybe in the eyes of some he did okay since he really brought home the bacon to his district this year (as well as in past ones), nearly $162 million. No doubt our elected representatives would get F's if graded on a curve. While I've devoted too much effort in my mea culpas to Pete Ricketts for my newly acquired total disdain of earmarks, the editorial from our good conservative friends at the New York times is instructive:

January 14, 2008
The Pork King Keeps His Crown
"The new earmark disclosure rules put into effect by Congress confirm the pre-eminence of Representative John Murtha at procuring eye-popping chunks of pork for contractors he helped put in business in Johnstown, Pa. The Pennsylvania Democrat, a power player on defense appropriations, exudes pride, not embarrassment, for delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in largesse to district beneficiaries. They, in turn, requite with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. Mr. Murtha led all House members this year, securing $162 million in district favors, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. In all, eager members in both houses enacted 11,144 earmarks, worth $15 billion. Taxpayers may be inured to $113,000 for rodent control in Alaska or a million for Idaho’s weed management. Mr. Murtha’s universe is a far more complicated and costly creation of interlocking contractors who continue to feed at the public trough despite reviews questioning their performance. In 1991, Mr. Murtha used a $5 million earmark to create the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence in Johnstown to develop anti-pollution technology for the military. Since then, it has garnered more than $670 million in contracts and earmarks. Meanwhile it is managed by another contractor Mr. Murtha helped create, Concurrent Technologies, a research operation that somehow was allowed to be set up as a tax-exempt charity, according to The Washington Post. Thanks to Mr. Murtha, Concurrent has boomed; the annual salary for its top three executives averages $462,000.There’s been no report of Mr. Murtha’s profiting personally. “This is about jobs,” the congressman insists. But the Murtha operation — which has become a model for other entrepreneurial lawmakers — is a gross example of quid pro quo Washington. Every one of the 26 beneficiaries of Mr. Murtha’s earmarks in last year’s defense budget made contributions to his campaign kitty, a total of $413,250, according to the newspaper Roll Call. The Pentagon, seeking its own goodies before Mr. Murtha’s committee, is noticeably hesitant to challenge his projects. And we’re not hearing a lot of objections from his colleagues — not after members have ladled out a fresh $15 billion for their own special interests, just in time for the coming elections. "


Anonymous said...

The problem is power: “Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” …Thomas Jefferson. As I’ve said many times…….the fault lies in us, the people (the employer)…..not in the hired hand. I served many faithful years in the military some years “combat related” and I was never able to give myself a raise; nor can the men and women currently serving our nation. THINK ABOUT THAT.

Anonymous said...

Pat, I'm sure your comments are widely shared. About twice a year I receive a critical email broadcast about the Internet. Most of the facts are wrong because Congressional pensions are calculated exactly the same as all other federal pensions: use an average of the last three years X years of service X 2 1/2%. It is not much different than many other industry pensions. Federal employees contribute to Soc.Sec and receive Soc Sec pensions, also.

What bothers me the most is the undermining of the importance of the Congress. As you say, it is what they do that should be the basis of complaint. A constant drumbeat about compensation helps to undermine Representative Government to the point where many good people say they will never be a candidate and put up with all the trash. Most people have no idea how rigorous the schedule is. There is a constant parade of people most of whom want more from the government. There must be a thousand business and professional organizations who lobby the Congress because their interest is threatened by some new law or regulation. The claim that "the federal government is broken" is correct. It is too damn big to be effective. History tells us that is almost always what happens. Yet, intelligent people are asking the federal government to give us Universal Health Care. Unbelievable!

Hope you've read Hayek's "The Road To Serfdom" published near the end of WW II. That should be the basis of the rebirth of the Republican Party.

It's very discouraging.