Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, makes $400,000, while poor Vice-President Biden brings home $221,000, and rank-and-file legislatures only bring in around $174,000, the same amount made by most White House employees, except Rahm Emanuel, who makes 200 bones more.
In fact, the entire White House, 460 staff members, as Newsweek‘s Seth Fiegerman points out, only makes a combined $38.7 million. Some executives make more than that in bonuses alone, and movie stars can earn just as much off residuals and lucrative no-bid contracts.
Considering all the work politicians and their staffers do, isn’t it time we give Washington and the White House a pay boost? Well, that all depends on which American traditions you hold near and dear…
I was reading over Fiegerman’s breakdown of White House salaries and it struck me as at once unjust and admirable the men and women in charge make so little. I mean, Obama, Emanuel and the rest of the gang do keep our country up and running — by their standards, at least — and surely they deserve to be compensated.
Celebrities rake in mad money for doing jobs that, though challenging, are not nearly as important. The Twilight cast, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, will reportedly gross $25 million each for the franchise’s last installments. Can’t the world live without the tween-centric vampire saga? I’d bet we could.
Politicians know very well that their salaries reap public scrutiny. Congressional rules and regulations make sure lawmakers’ bread gets buttered in public, and therefore there has to be at least nominal discussion on the matter. With the recession hammering down American dreams from coast-to-coast, legislators from both side of the aisle are making hay about not giving themselves a raise until at least 2012.
“[An automatic pay raise] is a slap in the face to do it when people across the country are tightening their own belts. With the terrible deficit coming up, Congress has to set an example that we take the budget situation seriously,” proclaimed Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Grassley’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Dave Loebsack, agrees, and has even taken the extra step of calling for a Congressional paycut: “We have to do this to send a signal to the people who are hurting that we’re willing to take a cut.” While surely these men are good intention, and are right on the money, they know constituents are paying attention, and they’re speaking to the working masses. Politics always comes into play, although not always in such a straightforward way.
Truth be told, giving Congressmen a raise wouldn’t be an enormous economic burden: their incomes are only adjusted for cost of living, which currently comes to around $2,610-per-politician, adding up to a total of only $1.4 million a year. Considering we spend that much on studying mosquitoes, and even more on potato pest control, the debate over Congressional cash flow should not be that big of a deal. But it is, and this battle stems not from money matters. It’s all about our nation’s invaluable ideals.
We Americans like to believe people go into politics for selfless reasons. Even if we know someone like former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has millions and millions of dollars, voters want their elected and appointed officials to come be selfless. That’s why we call them civil servants.
They are there to serve us, to embody the American idea of civil engagement and problem-solving.
Can you imagine if we lived in a country like Singapore, whose President SR Nathan makes around $2 million a year? People would be livid, and the modest respectability we project onto our elected officials would be spent. Such wages should be found in Hollywood or on Wall Street, not among Washington leaders.
Sure, politicians and White House officials have pensions, health care and other benefits, but they’re not meant to be wealthy. Or, rather, they’re not meant to be wealthy on our watch, and certainly not with tax payer money. America’s political model of civic sacrifice, then, come into conflict with the nation’s other collective belief, capitalism.
From a money-grubbing point of view, civic leaders should make the most dough, and certainly more than a teenaged movie star. From a patriotic point of view, they should struggle just the same as average Americans. Besides, we all know those who hold and leave office will find work elsewhere, like as a lobbyist or an author, thereby bringing in millions, which we will gladly pay, as long as it’s not for their service.
It’s a queer thing that we want those who keep our government moving to make less than those who make moving pictures. But, alas, that’s the contradiction that is the United States: we revel in money, and can’t stand to see it spent on public utility.