A very long time ago, when America was a bit saner than it is now, I became friends with a Senator from a Western state. He lived in my neighborhood, often went to a bar where a band I played with performed, and we discovered a common interest in Dobro guitars and Jack Daniels bourbon.
The Senator had been elected by a wide margin over his opponent. He believed in Native American rights, fair wages for all, and that the American Constitution was not a holy manuscript but a working document that should reflect and keep up with the times.
He had told his constituents that, if elected, he would serve a maximum of two terms, and then return to private life, which is exactly what he did.
We played music together and drank a lot and discussed Martin versus Gibson guitar strings and old-timey blue grass music. He was interested by the fact that I had interviewed the legendary Maybelle Carter, who wrote Wildwood Flower, played a mean autoharp, and was Johnny Cash’s mother-in-law. I was interested by a minor scandal where a member of the House of Representatives had been found in flagrante delicto with a pocket full of cash and an expensive call-girl in a New York Avenue motel.
This Representative was a Republican who announced that he was indeed a sinner and, though he would not resign from his elected post, he would go on a cold-water religious retreat to atone for his shortcomings and be reborn, he told the media, in the bosom of Jesus. My Senator friend was a Democrat; he found the situation both depressing and hilarious. Between sips of bourbon, he told me something I have never forgotten.
“You know,” he said, “All these people on the Hill, they’re gonna hang on no matter what. They’ve never had a job this good, and they never will again.” He repeated it for emphasis, “They never will again.” He drained his glass and shook his head sadly.
Over the ensuing decades, I’ve had good reason to ponder the wisdom of my friend’s words. The people we elect to serve us are basically handed a free pass.
According to the website Money $ Career, most Senators and Representatives:
- Get almost $200,000 annual salary. Some get a lot more.
- Receive a $3000 bonus tax deduction each year for living expenses while away from their home states and congressional districts.
- Work from plush (and free) offices; have access to a gym, an inexpensive cafeteria, and free parking, which in downtown Washington is an incredible perk.
- Have access to both a pension and a 401(k). Those who serve five years are guaranteed an annual pension of more than $14,000.
- Receive federal subsidies covering 72% of the cost of their healthcare premiums.
- Fly free. Most flights between their home states and Washington, D.C., are funded with taxpayer money. According to USA Today, Congress spent at least $14.7 million on taxpayer-funded trips in fiscal year 2016. Lawmakers can also book themselves on multiple flights without additional charges.
- Get free death benefits. Should—Heaven forbid—a member of Congress be killed while serving out a term, the surviving family members are entitled to death benefits equivalent to one year’s salary.
These are only the most obvious financial benefits. There are dozens of others, including the overseas junkets to Majorca; the endless free meals; the weekends in the mountains or by the sea paid for by lobbyists.
Do you still wonder while the Republicans on the Hill appear to have checked their testicles (and their morals) at the door? Why they are so willing to support and endorse an administration whose dishonesty has become instantly legendary? Why they champion a man who cheats on his wife and his taxes, is a racist, and a serial liar?
Here’s your answer: They’re terrified of losing the best job they’ll ever have.