Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mayor Mia Love and Congressional Salary

I recently saw the article below about a female congressional candidate.  Her comments about congressional pay were pertinent to themes in recent blog posts.

Mia Love is currently the mayor of a town in Utah, but is running for congress.  If she wins, she would make $175,000 annually.  But don’t cry for her, Argentina.  She has “no problem with having a pay cut.” 

Factually, this statement apparently makes no sense because she is making much less than that in her current mayoral job.  And of course the press loves to pick up on this rather insensitive comment.  $175,000 would be a HUGE salary to most American families--even if we weren’t all still suffering through a painfully sluggish economy.

But what really got my attention was her explanation as to why she would be fine with a “pay cut.”  Mayor Love explained, “The pay means nothing to me.  My husband provides a great living for all of us and you know I’m obviously not doing this because I need a job.”


A couple things disturb me about this comment.

First, it perpetuates the assumption that men’s wages put food on the table and women’s wages are simply “pin money.”  My hat is off to Mayor Love’s husband.  Great for him that he apparently earns such a comfortable living.  But Mayor Love’s statement simply fuels existing assumptions that are used to justify paying women less.  Not every woman is in Mayor Love’s privileged place that she could work for free.  Most women would not agree that their “pay means nothing.” Most women I’ve known in the work place need the money they earn.  Their own sustenance is dependent on it.  Often they have a family to support as well.

The second concerning aspect of Mayor Love’s comment is actually something I hear from a lot of politicians.  It is popular to say one is against raises or for pay cuts for those in elected office.  It sounds to many voters like a fiscally conservative thing to say.  Trim the government budget by paying politicians less.  I myself am a pretty thrifty person. Fiscal conservatism appeals to me.  But mindlessly cutting costs without thinking through the structural repercussions is not wise.

Although congressional pay seems high to the average Joe or Josephine, it is important to recognize that members of Congress have costs that most of us do not have.  Unless they represent a state neighboring the District of Columbia, they typically must incur duplicative housing costs.  They have to have a home in their district, but they need a place to live near the Capitol.  Even when they are thrifty and rent a small apartment, that can be pricey.  D.C. real estate is very costly.  And if a member of Congress wants his/her family around, they need a larger home in the nation’s capital.  That can really be expensive.  Then there are additional travel costs to go between Washington and one’s home district.  Members of Congress need to be in touch with their constituents.  It is like having a job with two work sites. 

Although at first blush it may sound noble to not need one’s paycheck when one is a representative of the People in Washington, think about what that really means.  It means that one is independently wealthy or one has a spouse whose earnings can support the member of Congress.  The latter possibility is pretty rare.  Less than 18% of the current Congress is composed of women.  Men rarely have a spouse who is the primary or sole breadwinner. 

So, most members of Congress who do not have a financial need for the paychecks that they earn are rich.  I have nothing against rich folk.  But having a Congress filled predominantly with people, who have the rare luxury of giving away their time for free, is not necessarily a good thing.  Such individuals are not representative of the vast majority of Americans.  They do not have life experiences that their constituents have, which might be critical in understanding the policy repercussions of various types of bills.

Mayor Love’s comments disturb me.  I don’t see anything inherently praiseworthy or noble about  being a person of independent means.  Good for you if that is your situation, but that does not reflect anything more than extreme good fortune. 

Moreover, I see absolutely nothing shameful about needing to work for a living.  I find it praiseworthy and noble to work hard to bring home the bacon to support oneself and one’s family.  There is certainly nothing to be embarrassed about in such a situation.

1 Thessalonians 2:9

Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.

2 Thessalonians 3:8

We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you.

1 Corinthians 9:12
If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.

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