Some Congress members to donate their salary during the shutdown, but that's a drop in the bucket - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Some Congress members to donate their salary during the shutdown, but that’s a drop in the bucket

Whenever people talk about terrorists, they call them crazy– crazy for believing that they’ll end up in paradise after blowing themselves up or by killing innocent people in a mall or hotel.

They’re irrational.  They’re ungrounded.  They’re frigging nutters.

For the last several weeks, I’ve heard similar adjectives applied to the recalcitrant Republicans who tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act law– a law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld as constitutional and that will benefit millions of Americans ( at least those in states where Republicans haven’t already undermined it by refusing  to set up exchanges and halting expansion of Medicaid which will leave the poorest of the poor uninsured).   This is the same group that vowed that President Barack Obama would be a one-termer and since they didn’t win that one, like radicals from the Sixties, they decided to “Shut it (our government) down.”

Despite a media vested in “the conflict story,” i.e., the two-sides have equal credibility, the shutdown was caused by the House Republicans,  led around by the cajones by a handful of GOP extremists.

obamacare-breitbartA lot of kanoodling has been going on about how they could extricate themselves—what settle for—having started this fracas with no “rationale” aim in mind—especially with the October 17th default deadline looming.  But, even now, a few outliers are undaunted about running the nation over the debt cliff with the attitude “Hey, let’s go over that fiscal Niagra and see what happens; it couldn’t be that bad.”

Some have suggested that we could avoid default by not paying Social Security (66 percent of Social Security beneficiaries 65 and older derive more than half their income from the program. A third of beneficiaries derive 90 percent or more of their income from the program, according to Paul Krugman, economist and columnist for The New York Times) or Medicare  or other programs.

To all those who say these legislators are unbalanced, insane, crazy, I say, no they’re not.   Step back a bit and ask yourself a few questions:

  • How did we get to be a country with such lopsided inequality that one percent of our people annually control 40 percent of the nation’s income?
  • And how did those high earning one- percenters increase their income by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007?  While the 60 percent of Americans in the middle managed less than 40 percent.
  • How did we get lower taxes on capital gains than on most people’s annual  incomes?

Why is it that 47 percent of Congressional representatives are millionaires –or 249 current members –according to The Center for Responsive Politics.  When one of the congressional miscreants announced that h/she is donating his/her salary during this shutdown, consider this:   The annual salary of a member of Congress is $174,000.   If s/he is a millionaire—and there are 15 multimillionaires in Congress—his/her three week salary donation is a drop in the bucket. As of today, 248 lawmakers have said that they plan to donate, refuse or hold in escrow compensation earned over the course of the shutdown, but this is simply a drop in the bucket.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa is No. 1 on The Hill's list of the wealthiest members of Congress with a fortune of $355 million.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa is No. 1 on The Hill’s list of the wealthiest members of Congress with a fortune of $355 million. (Public Domain)

The gesture reminds me of an acquaintance who was married to a wealthy investment banker who sent her roses every week.  He maintained an account at a florists who made sure to do send the flowers, but it is hardly  comparable to the working stiff who is living paycheck to paycheck and spontaneously stops and buys his wife a bouquet of flowers from the buy on the corner.  Consider, too, that the median annual household income of that working stiff is $52, 100 this year.

None of these representatives who shut down the government depend on any of its programs.  They talk about a balanced budget but not without cutting government services and taxes for the wealthy which only enhances inequality for those who aren’t in their income cohort.

Economists tell us that income inequality is ballooning in advanced economies around the world, but the United States has the most inequality– and the least equality of opportunity among those nations. Capitalistic market forces play some role in this, but, ultimately, it is politics— politics — that have shaped those market forces.

Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz  has written about how wealth begets power, which begets more wealth, which stifles true, dynamic capitalism and, ultimately, democracy.

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. …It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work… it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided.

So it is perfectly rational that a handful of representatives who would not be affected by shutting down the government would, indeed, shut down the government whose operations affect millions of Americans– but not them.

Stiglitz writes:  The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had.

In the long run the Republicans’  short-sighted action will undermine the health–and democracy– of the United States.  I know.  I’ve lived in countries where the wealthy were doing just fine but the nation wasn’t.

I used to cover Central and South America and spent time in these places living with middle and upper income families while learning Spanish.  In one country, the nation’s public schools were closed down, but the children in my families went to school every day –to private schools.   One family lived in an elegant neighborhood, nicknamed “Hollywood,” with private security on each block.  That family went to El Bosque mall each week.  It had ATMs and stores as sophisticated and glitzy as any you find in an upscale U.S. mall.  The mall had a cinder block wall around it topped with broken glass and barbed wire.  Why?  To keep out  los pobres, the poor.

And more and more Americans fit into that latter class.


About the author

Karen DeWitt

Karen DeWitt has a long distinguished career as a journalist, covering politics, but also has worked on political campaigns. She compares the later to the labor of a Hebrew working for the Pharaoh. She's covered the White House and the national politics for The New York Times; foreign affairs and the White House for USA TODAY before joining that newspaper’s management as an assistant managing editor. She switched to television as a senior producer for ABC’s Nightline, where she wrote and produced the award-winning, Found Voices about the digitization of 1930s and 1940s interviews with former slaves. She returned to newspapers, as Washington editor for the Examiner newspaper and eventually left to help on local political campaigns. She has several blogs, but contributes mostly to a food blog called “I don’t speak cuisine” at peacecorpsworldwide.org and theroot.com. Contact the author.
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