It's time to kill the staff infection plaguing our Congress

It's time to kill the staff infection plaguing our Congress

Staphylococcus is no laughing matter.  Commonly referred to as “staph infection”, it can wreak all sorts of havoc on the human body, like boils, food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.

Some forms of staph infection, like MRSA are resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics.  If possible, avoid hospitals at all costs.  This, however is not the type of infection we’re talking about today.

The staff infection we’re talking about today is even more insidious than MRSA.  It’s choking our Congress and seems immune to any known remedies.

The average congressman has about 20 staffers, the average senator about 35.  There’s about 400 chiefs of staff running the show for their senators and congressmen, each making an average of about $125,000 per year.

In case I forget, it’s worth mentioning that not only congressmen and senators are allowed to trade stock on the type of insider information they get in committee meetings, their staffers are allowed to, as well.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s look at the staffing finances of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

Feingold served in the U.S. Senate from 1993 until 2010, when he lost his seat to Republican Ron Johnson.  In the 10-year period from 2000 until he left office, Feingold’s staffing expenses increased every year from about $1.7 Million to about $2.8 Million in 2010.

I don’t know about you, but I get no such cost of living increase.

Additionally, there’s allowances for everything from mail to office expenses and mileage.  One congressmen, Aaron Schock (R-IL) drove his car so fast that his odometer got stuck at 80,000 miles, even as he drove on to the 170,000 miles he charged to you and me.

Based on the performance of the 113th Congress (Jan 3, 2013-Jan 3, 2015), it’s hard to figure out exactly what any of those guys did to earn their $174,000 per year salaries.

Back in 2009, Mitch McConnell made it clear that Republican congressmen were going to be on strike for the duration of the Obama presidency.  If you can say nothing else about the man-and I can’t-he’s been a man of his word.

Today, however is not about the partisan blame game.  Today we’re just looking at a very bloated part of Washington that no one ever seems to talk about.  When Ted Cruz, for example announced his presidential candidacy, he talked about shrinking government.  His big plan is to abolish the IRS.

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Who can argue with that?  I think with the IRS gone though, it might be difficult to persuade some folks to pay their taxes.  I’m sure Cruz has a plan for that, but he didn’t say anything about paring down his staff.

In 2013, Cruz’s first year in office, his staff expenses were almost $2.5 Million.  Last year, that number rose to almost FOUR MILLION DOLLARS.  Is this really the guy to keep spending in check?

That was a diversion, sorry.

There’s really two issues with these bloated congressional staffs.  The first is the cost, so clearly exemplified by Cruz’s doubling down on staff expenses in only one year.  He may be crazy enough to shut down the government by blocking an increase in the debt ceiling, but his office runs pretty smoothly on a seemingly bottomless budget.

The second problem, which may the more serious is that our elected law makers have a bus load of staffers between them and us.  In many cases, it seems those staffers are a buffer from the real world.

Last week, a bill failed to pass the Senate that would have offered help to victims of sex trafficking.  Why the bill failed depends on who’s telling the story. It’s either because of a clause in the bill that would prevent money from the fund being used to pay for abortions for victims of sex trafficking, or because most Democrats were unaware of the anti-abortion language contained within the bill.

Either way, it’s screwed up.  On both sides.

On the Republican side, it’s like they’re saying it’s OK for an 8-year old to be kidnapped, sold into sexual slavery and raped every day, but if she gets pregnant, they’ll jump in and protect that fertilized egg for the next nine months.  Once the kid is born, of course, he or she is on her own.

On the Democratic side, they’re admitting that they were either too lazy, too busy or too stupid to read the damn bill they knew was coming up for a vote.  We’ve seen them in action, so it’s hard to picture them being too busy.  You can decide between the two that are left.

For $174,000, aren’t we entitled to legislators willing to read their legislation?

Most bills are written by an assortment of staffers, with input from lobbyists working for interested parties.  It’s no secret that anti-abortion language inserted into every bill presented by the Republicans is a wink and a nod to the Religious Right, who are a very special type of special interest group.

The much-hated, much-maligned Obamacare could’ve been at least 1,000 pages shorter without special interest assistance.  It might also have had a single payer option, anathema to the insurance companies.

It’s unlikely that any of our law makers are going to voluntarily give up any members of their entourages.  Or their pensions, expense accounts, health care or any of their other perks.  But, those cushy annuities were not the way the founding fathers planned it.

In the days of yore-whoever yore may be-there was no such thing as career politicians.  Men-it was only men, back then-would go to Washington-before 1800, they went to New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, NJ and Annapolis, MD- for a term or two, then they returned to their farms or plantations.

Nowadays, getting elected and holding onto a seat for five years is like grabbing the gold ring.  Or the goose that lays golden eggs.  Their occupations and preoccupations are focused on appeasing any base necessary to hang onto their jobs.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to start dialing that back.  I haven’t worked out the details yet, but it might involve introducing some hybrid staph infection that only attacks staff infections.

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