Boston Globe: Our lordly congressional public servants 80_boston_globe

December 21, 2020 10:33 AM




The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided on Sunday that people aged 75 and older, along with essential frontline workers, should be next in line to get the Covid-19 vaccine — a significant change from its earlier proposal , under which elderly Americans would have been forced to wait until after tens of millions of non-healthcare workers and people with preexisting medical conditions got their shots. That initial proposal was a blunder: The data confirm overwhelmingly that age is a far greater risk factor for dying of the virus than preexisting conditions, and it would have been inexcusable to make Americans in the 80s and 90s wait for less vulnerable people to go first merely because they are obese or diabetic.

Meanwhile, a considerably less vulnerable population is going first: members of Congress and other federal officials. Why? Because, according to National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot, “continuity-of-government protocols established in executive policy” so specify.

Congress may not command much respect among voters, the overwhelming majority of whom consistently express disapproval for the way it does its job. If half of Congress called in sick for three months, Americans wouldn’t notice the difference. But that never seems to stop senators and representatives from holding themselves out as an elite class entitled to platinum-caliber pay, perks, and privileges. That includes cutting in line to be sure they get the Covid vaccine before your elderly loved ones do.

Which explains those pictures released last week, the ones that showed not only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who actually are elderly) getting their vaccines, but scores of younger members as well, including Alexandria Ocasio-CortezMarco Rubio, and Chris Murphy. Thirty- and fortysomethings are not remotely close to being a high-risk category for Covid, and members of Congress are almost by definition nonessential workers. For them to get vaccinated while their eighty- and ninetysomething constituents must wait is outrageous.

And typical.

In so many ways, members of Congress shove to the front of the line, living large on the public dime. Open the Books, a respected nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that researches and publicizes spending at all levels of government, calculates that the perquisites of serving in Congress cost American taxpayers more than $1.3 billion last year. In a recent report, it laid out some of those benefits and bonuses — from salaries that are quintuple the US median to lavishly subsidized foreign and domestic travel to some of the most generous pensions in America.

The whole infuriating report is worth reading. But for those who want the TL;DR version, Forbes published a summary by Adam Andrzejewski, the founder and CEO of Open the Books. Some excerpts:

SALARY: The House Speaker makes $223,500, Majority and Minority Leaders earn $193,400, and the President Pro Tempore makes $193,400. Regular members earn $174,000. [The median income for a full-time American worker, by contrast, is just under $36,000 per year, according to the Federal Reserve.]

Outside income is restricted to eliminate conflicts-of-interest. However, we found significant loopholes in the ethics laws. Who knew that powerful members can be employed by federal contractors based in their districts?

For example, during a 13-year period, Vanderbilt University employed Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) and paid him $250,000 in total salary (2005-2018). The university received $2.6 billion in federal contracts, grants, and direct payments from 2014-2018. The powerful congressman serves on the Budget Committee and on Oversight and Government Reform. Located in his district, Vanderbilt’s executives and employees are Cooper’s #1 campaign contributor ($135,261).

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