Steven Kurlander: A pay raise for Alcee Hastings? Let Congress earn a bonus instead

The Obama era is coming to a close soon. For most Americans, their standard of living and their wages have not risen much, if at all, during his tenure.

American workers in fact have been working harder for less now for years. In a March report by the U.S. Department of Labor, the “real earnings” of American workers increased by a miniscule .01%, illustrating once again how diminished the purchasing power of Americans remains.

A December, 2014, study by the Brookings Institute of Real Wage Stagnation observed: “Despite increased evidence of economic recovery, real wage gains have been niggling over the past decade and have given rise to growing claims of unfairness.”

Indeed, wage stagnation is becoming an important issue. For example, there’s a spirited debate, being driven by the labor movement, about raising the minimum wage at fast food restaurants, particularly in major cities where the cost of living is expensive.

But forget about giving empathy to poverty-level workers flipping burgers for $9 an hour, or even middle-class workers.

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Now it seems that our politicians in Washington aren’t receiving a fair wage either!

Florida Representative Alcee Hastings said on Monday he is not getting paid enough for his job.

Congress is working on a new budget, which contains a provision once again freezing the salary of its members to $174,000 annually (the freeze has been in effect since 2010). During Monday’s budget session, Florida congressman Alice Hastings complained about how little he and his fellow 434 congressmen are getting paid these days.

“Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution,” the Florida Democrat said at a Rules Committee meeting, referring to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added.

Washington D.C. is indeed a very expensive place to live, being No. 6 in the nation in a 2014 Kiplinger survey of the most costly cities and 60.1 percent above the U.S. average. Some members of Congress have been forced to live in their offices because of the cost of an apartment in D.C.

Add in the high travel expenses that congressmen pay to go back and forth to their districts, the costly obligations of attending events and conference and it is indeed costly to be a congressman. Hastings is the second-poorest member in the chamber. So his complaints may carry some legitimacy in his case.

Much of the blame for wage stagnation of the last decade lies on the House and Senate floor, where members of Congress have engaged in detrimental partisan fighting that has resulted in inaction on improving the American economy and the plight of its workers.

Here’s a solution: Adopt a bonus system in which congressional salaries are tied to the increase in prosperity of Americans as reflected by their wages, their standard of living and their ability to achieve the American dream.

Right now, the people flipping burgers in Hastings’ district deserve a living wage much more that he or his fellow members do. The last Congress was rated as the worst, most unproductive ever.

If Mr. Hastings and fellow members want a raise, I suggest he first come up with some economic initiatives and work with fellow members across the aisle to jumpstart the economy.

The truth is that while most Americans don’t even come close to making $174,000 a year, if Hastings and his fellow members did their jobs properly, they would be considered underpaid in terms of the nature and demands of their jobs. But if they want a raise, they should earn it. Sadly, their pay is not tied to job performance and they deserve a pay cut instead.

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly’s Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

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