2 Millionaire Senators Introduce Plan to Ensure Congress is Only for the Rich

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst, Think Progress

Let’s start this column off with a bold assertion. Paying lawmakers good salaries is one of our country’s most important progressive reforms because it means that they don’t have to be wealthy to serve. High congressional pay is a safeguard against corruption, not a sign of it.

Bear this assertion in mind as you consider this proposal.

Scott’s net worth was $232.6 million at the end of 2017 — not bad for a man who led a company that paid $1.7 billion in fines for widespread Medicare and Medicaid fraud. His co-sponsor, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), is worth between $35 million and $96 million, according to his campaign disclosure forms. So Scott and Braun can afford to forego their pensions — or their entire salary, if they choose.

Yet, if elected officials do not receive what Scott dismisses as “generous salaries and pensions,” that will discourage people who do not have Scott or Braun’s vast wealth from running for office. As future President John Adams once warned, if “you make it law that no man should hold an office who had not a private income sufficient for the subsistence and prospects of himself and family,” then “all offices would be monopolized by the rich, the poor and the middling ranks would be excluded, and an aristocratic despotism would immediately follow.”

The question of whether to pay lawmakers was hotly contested by the framers — as historian Gordon Wood writes, the ultimate decision to do so “was radical for the age.” Many prominent early Americans subscribed to what Wood labels the “classical republican” view, which saw public service as a burden that should be carried without remuneration.

“In a virtuous government,” Thomas Jefferson claimed, “public offices are, what they should be, burthens to those appointed to them, which it would be wrong to decline, though foreseen to bring with them intense labor, and great private loss.”

Jefferson, of course, was a wealthy slave owner.

Ultimately, however, Adams’ view prevailed over Jeffersons’ — which is why the Constitution provides that “the Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” Currently, most members of Congress receive a salary of $174,000 per year, plus benefits.

That’s enough money for lawmakers to enjoy an upper middle class lifestyle, but there are also good reasons why we should want lawmakers to be paid fairly generously. Members of Congress who struggle to make ends meet are more likely to be tempted by bribes. They’re also more likely to quit public service in favor of more lucrative corporate lobbying jobs.

It’s also worth noting that the congressional pensions that Scott and Braun wish to eliminate are fairly modest.

Congress uses an elaborate formula to determine the amount of each retired member’s pension. To qualify, a former member must either be 62-years-old with five years of service, or be at least 50-years-old with 20 years of service.

Qualified former members receive a small percentage of their congressional salary for each year that they served in Congress. Again, the formula is fairly complicated, but under this formula a retired congresswoman with 25 years of service will receive an annual pension of about $67,000. A single-term senator will receive an annual pension of less than $18,000 when they reach retirement age.

That’s enough money to allow a retired lawmaker to live a solidly middle class life when they combine their pension with Social Security benefits and any savings they amassed over the course of their life. But it’s hardly a massive windfall.

It is, however, an enticement that will encourage people who do not share Scott or Braun’s massive wealth to consider public service.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Ian Millhiser is a Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox News and many radio shows.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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