Congressional Cuts — Part 1 of 3: Payroll Reduction
Congresspeople are paid way too much and need to have a massive pay cut!
- Congress needs a regular schedule that limits their days, times, and hours that they can work so that speech and rules cannot be used as weapons.
- While debating and voting, Congress should be able to use any available technology so as not to have a need to always be in Washington, DC.
- All non-monetary costs like housing should be covered, but pay should be reduced to Living Wage levels and aligned with fewer hours worked.
It has been a difficult journey to get to this part. Frankly, the Legislative Branch of the government by far needs the most amount of reforms. While Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises on how they will change the country and what they will make happen, it is Congress that does all that work. We will be sure to return the Executive Branch shortly, but for now we still need some final reining in of Congress.
What we have done to this point is redistribute Congress to be a closer alignment to the affiliation of the many different peoples on the United States (making sure all people were counted), try to limit the oligopoly powers of the Democratic and Republican Parties, balance Federal powers with State/Territories checks, force a process of legislation moving through Congress, make bills and laws reviewed automatically on many different levels and at many different times, and hold Congresspeople accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Despite all of this, Congress would still have too many tools available to it to avoid doing its job and reward itself for doing so. Now, we need to de-incentivize those who want to be in Congress for personal gain and power and make it desirable only for those who want to govern and serve. In other words, Congress needs to be a far less desirable job, yet more flexible for those with the aspiration to assist yet not the means.
Part Timers — Part 1
How often does Congress work? By the Constitution, they only have to work once in the entire year. This is covered by Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2 and modified by the 20th Amendment. We’ll make one more adjustment to that Clause directly — which partially discusses how legislators should get together:
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2 shall be merged with Article/Amendment 20, Clause 2 and together shall read:
<strike>The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.</strike>
The Congress shall assemble <strike>at least once in every year</strike> regularly once sworn into office, and such meetings shall begin <strike>at noon</strike> on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
Just a little housekeeping to start us off: we have removed the “at least once in every year” component and just made it “regularly once sworn into office” to rid the Congress of having a fixed number of working occasions, especially one so open-ended. In modern times, Congress usually meets for about half of the working year in total. When averaged out, it comes out to less than 3 days per week. That is not to say that they are not working on other occasions as Congresspeople are supposed to be meeting with their constituents when not in Congress. Of course, the reality is much time is spent on fundraising and other election-related activities, so the true workload is harder to discern.
What is known is that when in session Congress can work insane hours. Sessions can go late into the evening and through the nights. Speech is used as a weapon to keep Congress in session and either wear down opponents or hope they leave long enough to get a motion passed. It takes away from the spirit of debate to make being in Congress an endurance test. Aside from removing the specific start time of noon in the above Clause, a new Clause is needed to help determine working hours:
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 3 shall be added.
Each chamber of Congress shall set a regular schedule for itself with specific days and hours in which its members shall meet. Once set, these days and times shall not be moved, cancelled, or extended unless an emergency is declared by the President of the United States.
Having this amendment would be the first step to controlling Congress using time as a weapon. Before, in the new Article 1, Section 11, we added functions that force a bill to keep moving through Congress. Here in the follow-up to that part, it states there are certain days and times set up for Congress to meet and those days cannot be modified except in the case of an emergency. In particular, the emergency declaration would have to come from the President, so this is a check on Congress from being able to force a change in schedule themselves.
The idea of this is that Congress will have regular and expected hours instead of going through endurance tests and other tricks. On the other end, it stops Congress from creating new sessions when no one is available in order to push through legislation. Bills should not be about circumventing the system to make them happen; but should be about closely following the process.
There will be more about this scheduling up ahead, but there is another key element and that is the method by which people can vote:
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 4 shall be added.
Congress shall make all methods of debate and vote available to its members such that members need not be in the Seat of Government or any designated location to perform legislative duties. All technologies as are available shall be allowed and required to be used to limit the need for each chamber of Congress to meet in person. Representatives and Senators may respond to roll call, debate, cast votes, or perform any legislative duty by any legal method available.
Right now, Congress has created a set of rules that say a Representative or Senator must be in the chamber to vote. They cannot even vote by proxy or even vote while out in the hallway yet still in the same building. Even if their hologram were projected on the Senate floor, that person could still not vote by current rules. All the Constitution says is that Congress shall assemble at least once a year and that a quorum (that Congress can define) is needed to vote. It says nothing of the where, why, and how a vote is to occur and left that totally up to Congress.
Unfortunately, Congress has chosen to make their lives more complicated than necessary. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, having congresspeople in a specific location was needed because communication and travel was slow. By refusing to keep up with modern technology, Congress is costing American taxpayers money by forcing Congresspeople to almost always be in Washington, D.C.; and that in turn creates the need to pay Congress an even higher salary. It is a vicious cycle that just keeps repeating itself.
We will get a lot deeper into the cost savings and time savings for Congress shortly, but for now the focus is on methodology, and mostly allowing Congresspeople to be remote in order to do their job.
Stop In The Name of Law
Why is there a law on the books for “Onion rings made from diced onion”?
One of the core issues with the Constitution is that is it hyper-focused on the timeframe it was written. The founders could not imagine the possibilities we have now, and we may not be able to image the possibilities to come. When writing this amendment, the idea is that a Congressperson can engage in the process, debate, and vote from any location so that they are not tied to Washington, D.C.; instead, they can work from home, which will be especially important later in this section as we cut down their time working for the government. This would be especially beneficial and poignant for Senators as they are supposed to represent their State’s interest directly. It is a lot more plausible for Senators to represent State interests if they spent the majority of their time in their home State and not in the District of Columbia. And the only way to do that is to allow proxy voting.
Proxy voting is a method by which a person can cast a vote without being present. This is often used in other fields, especially with corporations that have stockholders fill out their votes online or via mail and then a person collects those and vote their shares for them. There is no reason — with proper security protocols — that Congress could not do the same. Today, there are any number of methods by which Congress could participate. The most logical ones are the same ones used in corporations across the world: Teleconferences and Webinars (i.e., GoToMeeting), E-mail and Texting, Message Boards and Social Media.
These are the technologies the world over uses to communicate and conduct business, and not only is there no reason for the Government not to use them, the benefits far outweigh the costs and potential issues (with proper oversight and controls, of course). Though we cannot accurately predict the future, perhaps there will be reliable 3D holographic communication, or virtual spaces, or some other method yet conceived. We simply do not have enough foresight to see what will be available, so we need to leave it open to even better communication options to come.
Thus, Congresspeople will need to be in Washington, D.C. a lot less. For sure, there will be times when they do need and want to get together, or it is more beneficial to be together for a period of time. However, those times should be fewer and far between. Because of this, Congresspeople should not be expected to set up and maintain residents in Washington, D.C. (which in turn will lead them to needing far less pay, but more to come there momentarily):
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 5 shall be added.
The Federal Government shall purchase and maintain a property or several properties to house all members of Congress when they visit the Seat of Government of the United States. The property or properties shall be sparse and utilitarian to only serve the temporary housing needs of just the members of Congress when visiting the Seat of Government. In addition to room, the Federal Government shall provide board, transportation, and all other basic needs while members of Congress travel to and from and stay in the Seat of Government.
Congress already has a right to purchase and maintain property, as Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 states:
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;
The first part of this clause involved the creation of Washington, D.C., while the latter part is about making buildings and other assets. Most of what was listed is military in use, that “other needful Buildings” component is broad enough to be quite useful today. Over time, the government has grown its functional duty and as such has needed more office space for its many, many purposes. Creating what amounts to a government-run hotel for legislators is no different than any of those and easily falls into this category.
However, we need an amendment to the Constitution to lay out purpose and restrict Congresspeople. What we are actually creating is two parts: the first part is non-monetary compensation for Congresspeople. If we are going to reduce what Congress is being paid, the cost of being in Congress needs to be covered another way. This is why the Amendment goes into items like “board”, AKA food. “Transportation” would be the plane, train, taxi, and other automotive costs of getting to and staying in Washington, D.C. while “other basic needs” would cover things like the utilities and water to keep the living spaces going. With these basic costs covered, Congresspeople should need far less monetary compensation to take care of themselves.
The second part is limiting the legislators’ exposure to outside influence. Every component of housing, food, and services leaves them vulnerable to manipulation and the potential of ethical violation of emoluments. By taking all of that away, all they need to focus on while on government business is the action of legislating. In a similar vein, with Congress in town far less frequently — and more regularly spread far and wide — lobbyists would not be able to exert as much influence. Lobbyists would have to travel the country over or wait patiently for Congress’s limited returns to Washington, D.C. to try to make as large of an impact as they do today. Yet, Congresspeople would not be as open to non-monetary influences (and we will deal with their monetary ones shortly, as promised).
Furthermore, since Congresspeople do not need to move to Washington, D.C. full-time, they do not need to bring their families with them and make sure that they are provided for. That is why this Amendment is specifically about housing just the members of Congress and that the space be sparse and utilitarian. As the Amendment states, this is just to provide a “temporary” location for the Congresspeople, so it does not need much except the basics of any modern hotel room. That is not to say it should be an uncomfortable Soviet-style cement block with a mattress on the floor, but that the Congresspeople do not all need multi-million-dollar brownstones. If a Congressperson wants to buy something like that with their own money outside of their Congressional salary, that is their prerogative; the cost just does not need to be shouldered by the taxpayers in one way or another.
Now, since we have covered the Congresspeople’s non-monetary needs, we can at last turn to the other half. Leaving Article 1, Section 4, we head down to Section 6 and the related (and nearly useless) 27th Amendment to revisit what the 27th Amendment tried to fix: compensation.
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 6, Clause 1 shall be merged with Article/Amendment 27, Clause 1 and together shall read:
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. No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives and Senators shall have intervened.
Direct monetary compensation shall be limited to and equal to the Living Wage rate in the Seat of Government commiserated with the hours scheduled by each chamber of Congress. Additional non-monetary compensation may only be awarded as designated in other parts of the Constitution.
They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
As previously discussed, the average Congressperson receives $174,000 per year for their services, with additional pay for leadership positions. True, Congress has forgone their automatic pay raise they assigned themselves since 2010, so their pay has been stagnant for quite some time. And despite this large number being far above the national average, it is nothing compared to what it has been in the past. In 1969, Congresspeople were paid $43,500, which adjusted for inflation is $295,934 in 2019 dollars.
By that, one could say Congress has cut their pay nearly in half! However, if we go back to 1855 when Congress permanently changed from a per day to a per year system of compensation, they were making $3,000 which in 2019 would be $88,120. In other words, their pay is nearly double what it was when they first started using this system.
Let us go back even further. In 1815, Congress used the annual system for the first time and set wages at $1,500, which amounts to $24,891 in 2019 dollars. Now this is where it gets interesting! If we go back to 1790 during the first full year of Congress, the members met for 191 days for $6 per day. Six dollars in 2019 dollars would be $166.66, and if we divide that by eight hours of a standard modern workday that would be $20.83 per hour. If we multiple the daily rate by the number of days, we’ll end up with $1,146 for the year, or $31,832 in 2019 dollars.
What does this all tell us? Well, if we go all the way back in time, it seems like the original members of Congress — many of whom helped write the Constitution — had a different idea about what compensation meant than later members of Congress. Of the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution, 41% were members of the 1st Congress. In other words, the pay scales we see in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s are in line with what the founders and writers of the Constitution intended, not what we see today.
When looking at that original $20.83 per hour, it looks very similar to living wage calculations. The Living Wage, unlike the Minimum Wage, is calculated to what it really costs to survive in a given area. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a Living Wage calculator that is readily available in a peer-reviewed methodology. For a single person living in Washington, D.C. in 2019, the Living Wage would be $17.76 per hour (compared to the Minimum Wage of $13.25 or the Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25). We will return and spend a great deal of time on Living Wage, but for now consider it the benchmark by which we will pay members of Congress.
If we accept that $17.76 per hour and take the 186 days that the Senate was in session for in 2018 (the House met for 171, but we’ll go with the larger number for this example), and assumed an 8 hour work day — though some were 24 hours and some were 1 — we would get a grand total of $26,427. Isn’t it amazing how that comes almost exactly in line with 1790 to 1815 numbers?! Most importantly is that “limited to” additional phrase in there means that Congress cannot grant itself other monetary compensation in service to the Government (i.e., getting paid extra to serve on a committee or in a leadership position).
Now, we covered the “non-monetary” compensation before with the housing situation. One of the reasons Congresspeople are paid so much now is because of the high cost of housing in Washington, D.C., which of course is a trap of their own making. Therefore, if their lodging, food, transportation, energy, and all other basics costs are covered, they do not need much of a salary anyway. All of those non-monetary components do add up to quite a bit of real value, but at least it is being controlled at a Federal level so that individual Congresspeople are not being influenced by either what they can afford or the gifts and discounts given to them.
TO BE CONTINUED…