Time is money, and Congress wastes both

by Jim Longworth

I am often fascinated by the juxtaposition of two or more disparate stories that hit the news wires at virtually the same time. So it was last week when the Hill newspaper reported that the 50 richest congressmen had a combined net worth of over $1.4 billion, an increase of $85 million since last year. Meanwhile, a number of media outlets reported that over 30 percent of legislation passed by Congress has to do with the naming of federal buildings, making commemorative resolutions and other frivolous matters.

Makes one wonder if we taxpayers are getting enough bang for our buck, and enough substantive work out of our elected officials.

Some of the resolutions passed include recognizing soil as an essential natural resource, establishing national watermelon month, honoring the Idaho Potato Commission, setting aside a special day to celebrate Corvettes, designating a day to recognize funeral directors and honoring the birthday of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher and political figure who has been dead for more than 2,000 years.

The Confucius resolution drew the ire of GOP representative John Boehner, who accused Democrats of wasting taxpayer’s time and money. But just a few days later, Boehner and his party introduced a bill to recognize the importance of “the symbols and traditions of Christmas.”

No doubt, these kinds of frivolous resolutions mean a lot to the congressman or senator who is trying to stroke the ego of a particular donor group, but that is no justification for clogging up our legislative branch.

Fortunately, there are a few politicians who recognize that the practice of vanity-driven lawmaking needs to be curtailed. Last month, during a vote on a resolution to honor New York’s Saratoga race track, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, pulled a Popeye, and essentially told his colleagues, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” Chaffetz called the Saratoga proposal “an embarrassment,” and urged his fellow lawmakers to curb the frivolity. But his pleas fell on deaf ears, and the Saratoga resolution passed 396 to 14. According to Front-, Chaffetz then attempted to challenge the constitutionality of such frivolous bills, saying that they “exceed the proper role of Congres.” The jury is still out on that argument.

The 50 richest congressmen had a combined net worth of over $1.4 billion, an increase of $85 million since last year

Back in 2005, Rep. Virginia Foxx rose to the floor of the House, and praised my television show, “Triad Today,” for its commitment to public service and advancing voter education. Those kinds of speeches are common fare in Congress, but they do not require a debate or a vote. Congressmen are given one minute to read a declaration into the record, and then it’s back to work. In my opinion, that’s how all constituent related matters should be handled, so as not to take time away from important business at hand.

Right now, Congress should be working full time to repeal bad trade agreements, stop rewarding American corporations for sending their jobs overseas, implementing true healthcare reform measures and stop spending money on Iraq and Afghanistan. But congressmen can’t do that when they spend one-third of their time honoring dead philosophers and another third raising money for their next campaign.

Speaking of money, that brings us back full circle to the matter of Congressional wealth. Today, the base salary for rank and file members is $174,000, but that’s just a drop in the political bucket. They also receive large expense allowances, pay only about 29 percent of their monthly health insurance premium, and retire with an average pension of $60,000 per year for life.

Politicians who feel entitled to their job and to its lifetime benefits have no incentive to work more efficiently, or spend their time and our money more wisely. Confucius himself believed that political institutions of his day had broken down because those in power maintained their position by making claim to titles for which they were not worthy. Some things never change. Gridlock, greed and incompetence, it seems, have been around for a long time.

That’s why I propose we reduce all Congressional salaries and benefits by at least one-third, until such time as they decide to stop wasting time with frivolous resolutions and focus on fixing the economy and creating jobs. If that doesn’t work, then we can always take solace in the words of an ancient philosopher who said, “Politician who waste taxpayer time and money, find self with plenty of one and none of the other after November.” Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).