America is a representative democracy, but our legislators in Congress do not accurately represent the population as far as income is concerned. The income disparity between sitting members of Congress and the average household explains why the rich enjoy all the advantages in America. Party affiliation does not favor Republicans or Democrats as far as income is concerned, and both sides of the aisle have their fair share of extremely wealthy members.
When looking at the voting records of Democrats and Republicans, Democrats are more likely to support jobs and social programs for families, minorities, and the poor. Conversely, Republicans are much more likely to support corporations, the banking industry, and the wealthy to the point of cutting services to the bottom 98% of the population so the top 2% can maintain their wealth and pay less taxes.
In 2009 the median household income was approximately $46,326, and that figure represents a single wage earner. Households with dual wage earners earn on average $67,348 per year. The figures vary from state to state, and within states the figures are different depending on location, education level and industry in the region. Whatever metrics one uses to figure income, our representatives are doing much better than the average American, and for Republicans, it demonstrates their blatant disregard for the majority of Americans.
The current salary of rank and file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year with majority and minority leaders earning an additional $20,000 per year putting them in the top 3-5% of all wage earners in America. The net worth of Senators and Representatives is even more revealing. In the Senate the average net worth is $13,989,022 and in the House the average is $4,670,831. It must be noted that legislators receive travel and administrative allowances that drive up their cost to the American taxpayer. There is nothing wrong with Senators and Representatives being wealthy, but their wealth makes them ineligible to critically make and pass laws that affect the great majority of Americans.
The wealth of American legislators makes them so far removed from the average American that they cannot relate to living from paycheck to paycheck, or to having to subsist on unemployment benefits or Social Security retirement income. Many legislators came from humble beginnings, but that does not make them sympathetic to the plight of the unemployed or average working-class wage earner. Their wealth explains why legislators give tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, and why they insure that wealth is preserved. There is a thinking that legislators protect the wealthy for the campaign contributions, but the reality is they are protecting themselves as much as their donors.
Republicans are primarily the protectors of the wealthy, and although Democrats are guilty of pandering to campaign donors in the banking industry and Wall Street, Democrats are more likely to promote legislation to create jobs and social programs for the poor and infirm. In the past year, Democrats sponsored legislation to remove tax incentives for corporations that outsource jobs, and a jobs bill that provided incentives for small businesses that create jobs. Republicans blocked both pieces of legislation with the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their foreign donors.
The Republicans also held unemployed Americans hostage to get tax breaks for the 2% richest of Americans. Although both parties are filled with multi-millionaires who benefit from lower capital gains and estate tax, it was Republicans who refused to extend unemployment benefits until they secured the wealthy tax breaks. Democrats are just as wealthy as Republicans, but they fought for health care reform, unemployment benefits, and social programs that benefit the majority of Americans.
It is not that Republicans are ignorant of the situation most Americans find themselves in; it is just that they are more concerned with maintaining or growing their own wealth. A couple of weeks ago, John Boehner broke down crying when he spoke of America’s children having the same opportunities that he had growing up, but his emotional outburst belied his voting record in regards to job creation and aid to families struggling in the difficult economy. For most Republicans, their loyalties lie with the people of their economic class instead of working-class Americans.
America’s legislators are in the top 3-5% of Americans who don’t need jobs, health insurance, or reasonable retirement income and they are not representative of the population. 98% of the voters who elect representatives are not wealthy and most live paycheck to paycheck; few have affordable health care coverage. By contrast, legislators receive incredible pensions and health care for the rest of their lives and based on their net worth, most will never need either. It is possible that they feel the average citizen is in the same position, but that is unlikely.
It is more likely that they just don’t care about average Americans, and their votes are to support and maintain their own wealth. Judging by the net worth of legislators, they must have significant stock in large corporations that explains their reluctance to hold them accountable to the government or taxpayers. It also explains why they refuse to pass legislation that will create jobs because it will diminish the bottom line of the corporations they have stock in; or own outright.
Democrats are just as wealthy as Republicans, but they have social and moral conscience enough to try to alleviate the poverty and diminishing economic situation the Republicans have put the American worker in. If Democrats are serious about creating jobs and a stable economy for all Americans, they will publicize the wealth of all legislators so the American people can see for themselves who is representing the people and who represents the wealthy. If they did, Republicans would be hard pressed to campaign on promises to cut taxes for the rich, outsource jobs, and deny health care to millions of Americans. The American people are not the brightest folks on the planet, but they know hypocrisy when the see it. It is up to wealthy Democrats to help Americans see it.