Obama and Congress should follow Ron Paul’s example on elected pay

President Obama will take a five percent pay cut ... but why stop there? Photo: Cheryl Senter/AP Photo

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2013 ― President Obama’s recent decision to take a five percent pay cut to show solidarity with furloughed workers is a nice gesture, but it is a token sacrifice compared to the suffering the average American faces on a daily basis. In 2011, Republican candidate Ron Paul made a far more magnanimous offer when he promised that if elected as president, he would only accept $39,336 in compensation ― what he termed the “average income of Americans.”

Both President Obama and members of Congress should follow Ron Paul’s example in these times of fiscal peril and economic suffering. While the average American grapples with inflation-buoyed energy and food prices as well as a dizzying array of government compliance expenses, the average member of Congress makes between $174,000 to as much as $223,500 per year and is generously reimbursed for expenditures made in conducting the affairs of their office. The President of the United States makes some $400,000 in salary yet lives completely at taxpayer expense, surrounded by aides and staffers who provide for his every need and whim 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With the pay and perks that accompany Federal office, it is impossible for Washington D.C. to represent a nation that is growing poorer and poorer with each day. Washington delights in the best of the best while Main Street constantly revises its standard of living to lower and lower levels. If our elected officials are serious about the rich “paying their fair share” the first place they should start is by shrinking their salaries to less than $40,000 a year.

There are some who will take great offense to this suggestion, claiming in response that both the President and the members of Congress have important jobs and should be compensated according to their responsibility. My response to that is, look at America’s private sector. Outside of government, Americans are compensated based on their market value and how much they produce for a company. With few exceptions, most Americans produce vastly more than they are actually paid and are grossly undervalued with respect to their actual educational or skill worth.

When we look at elected officials, the calculus of getting paid six digits to be pampered by staffers and ghost supported by expert intellectuals just doesn’t add up. Unlike private employees, anyone who has either served in elected office or been a staffer to one will tell you that the “hard work” and heavy lifting is all done by the support team outside of public view, not by the elected official themselves.

Don’t believe me? Go to your congressional delegation’s next town hall meeting and ask them a technical question within the scope of their committee’s authority. Let’s say for example they voted “yes” on this year’s $633 billion dollar defense bill. Ask them to explain to you on the spot the difference between the tribes in Afghanistan and which ones we actively support with taxpayer dollars. What do you think they will say?

Or here’s another one: Ask them to explain to you in detail the capabilities of the Ohio-class nuclear submarine our tax dollars are supposedly going to “modernize” compared to the Chinese Type 094 submarine. Think they can do it? Chances are they’ll be frantically gesturing for their staff to pass them “the BlackBerry” for help, yet they are being paid more than most international experts and making dangerous policies without having all of the intelligence at their hands.

Former president George W. Bush spoke accurately when he said “I’m the decider and I decide what is best” ― elected officials have the privilege of making unreasonable legislative or executive demands of both their staffers and the average American and all they do is “decide” what others must do for them. The only “stress” involved with being an elected official is the stress of having to face a hostile media and the stress of figuring out how to be re-elected.

Private Americans on the other hand face the stress of living up to their spouse and children’s expectations with lower salaries, the stress of being fired because there is a non-stop stream of younger people who can do their job better, the stress of the economy dying, the stress of their savings being destroyed and the stress of not having an army of staffers to handle their lives on their behalf.

Unlike our elected officials, the average citizen doesn’t get to stop in the middle of the day, invite a friend to the office and ask some staffer to whip up turkey chili for free. The average American doesn’t get to start their first day of work at a new job with a luncheon that includes dainty food packed with more calorie decadence than two full days of an average person’s diet.

The average American doesn’t get to send their children to school surrounded by wiry, cardio’d-out federal agents and an entire air force of surveillance aircraft and supersonic F-22 Raptor interceptors on tap. The average American is a persecuted, impoverished and desperate individual who just wants to be happy ― if only for a brief moment ― before they die.

Think about the gap that exists between America’s political class and her working class. Thomas Paine in his political treatise Common Sense wisely used the example of the Bible’s warning of 1 Samuel 8:11-12 to show what effect a bureaucracy has on a nation:

“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

Isn’t it amazing that America is crying out for relief from the sequester, relief from the unemployment, relief from the rising costs, relief from the wars, relief from everything that is going wrong ― even as the once inferior BRICs nations prepare to surpass us ― and our elected kings in Congress and the Oval Office are still unwilling to cut their royal portion?

Ron Paul showed great wisdom and leadership by example in his offer to slash his salary to match that of the average American. That’s the heart of a servant and a volunteer, not the heart of a tyrant. And to those who would shout, “But our elected government wouldn’t be able to afford the modern cost of rent or living in D.C. making only $39,000 a year” I say this: That’s exactly the point.

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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