A Cushy D.C. Job Everyone Wants

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 21, 2006
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Question: What do all these individuals have in common?

Former state Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa, state Sen. Bob Hogue, state Sens. Colleen Hanabusa, Clayton Hee, Gary Hooser, Ron Menor, state Rep. Brian Schatz, Honolulu City Councilman Nestor Garcia, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga?

Answer: They are all after the same job, and thus are running for Congressman Ed Case’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

My first thought was, this job must be easy. If not, how come so many people feel they are qualified to move to Washington, D.C., for most of the year and give up all their contacts in the 2nd Congressional District, which means rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands?

Most of the state’s problems take place in the district. There are the military firing ranges and practice fields for the Stryker Brigade. Another paramount issue in this district is the average performances of their public schools in the district. The traffic congestion is increasing, and everyone wants to put another landfill in the area, the homeless population has tripled in five years and, simply put, this is a tough district to represent.

So if the job is not easy, what other reason could there be for so much interest in the job?

Which brings us to my second thought: This job must pay well. I was surprised at how much they pay representatives in Congress. No only that, the perks are staggering.

The record shows that the rank-and-file members of congress earn $165,200 annually. If you luck out and get rewarded with a leadership position, your salary can jump to $212,100. To guarantee salary satisfaction, Congress votes for its own pay raises.

They also receive a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) annually, unless Congress votes to not accept it. That’s just the beginning of the benefits. Members of Congress receive retirement and health benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees. They become vested after five years of full participation. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her salary.

And there’s more.

Members of Congress have free rent in Washington and at their local offices at the Kuhio Federal Building, and are authorized a personal staff allowance for up to 18 permanent employees and four part-timers. The maximum salary allowed House personal staffers in 2005 was $156,2001 up from $140,451 in 2001. Expense allowances for members, kept separate from personal staff allowances, cover domestic travel, stationery, newsletters, overseas postage, telephone and telegraph service and other expenses in Washington and in the members’ state or congressional districts. And as if that wasn’t enough support, they are afforded the Franking Privilege, one of the most valuable perquisites, because it allows a member to mail official letters and packages under the member’s signature without charges for postage.

Members of Congress also have their own gyms, restaurants and barber shops.

If you are wondering, foreign travel by members for the conduct of government business is financed through special allowance from a variety of sources. You don’t really want to know this part. Members of Congress can also have an outside employment income, but sadly for them it is generally limited to 15 percent of a member’s pay. Included in office expenses are a minimum amount of $9,700 for domestic travel, with additional funding based on the distance from Washington D.C. to the farthest point in the Congressional district from Washington.

Does this sound like a pretty good job or what?

Also consider there are no special requirements to claim this job. Don’t need a college degree in politics or any kind of degree for that matter. All you have to do is get elected. Mind you, this is not a “heavy lifting” job. They have spring, summer, fall and Christmas breaks. Most members of Congress work on Tuesday through Thursday. They don’t have to punch in, and if they miss a meeting nobody cares, there is no penalty. Said another way, they come and go as they please and very seldom carry any money. Just about everything is compliments of some corporation or non-profit agency.

So that’s why this is such a desirable job. No accountability, great pay, free rent in two powerful locations, free franking privileges, foreign and domestic travel for free, guaranteed annual COLA adjustments, and no one looking at your won-loss record. No one will even know where you are or what you are up too.

Makes you want to throw your hat in the ring, doesn’t it?

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