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Congressmen's incomes triple while America gets poorer

Published time: December 27, 2011 17:11
Edited time: December 27, 2011 21:11
The US Capitol (AFP Photo / Karen BLEIER)

The US Capitol (AFP Photo / Karen BLEIER)

If you feel like Congress fat cats can’t relate to their fellow Americans anymore, the truth behind the matter might just be that they can’t.

While Americans have seen a recession ravage savings accounts, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have only gotten richer.

Between the US Senate and House of Representatives, the median net worth for a member of Congress is around $913,000, reports The New York Times. That man in the middle is Ed Pastor (Dem-AZ), and although he makes a pretty penny nowadays, his income today is gigantic when gauged with what he was worth when he first came to Washington. Twenty years earlier, Pastor pulled in enough to have only $100,000 saved up, a figure he has magnified nearly tenfold in the two decades since.

Comparing the mean in 2009 with the mean for lawmakers’ assets in 1984, the figure has tripled.

Off of the Hill, however, others aren’t so lucky. Taking into account all of America, the median net worth today is roughly $100,000 — what Congressman Pastor pulled in 20 years earlier. And while lawmakers have seen their wallets only fatted in recent times, the incomes of average Americans have dwindled as a recession and depression downturned the American economy.

Somehow, those effects managed to largely miss Washington.

While the US Census Bureau reports half of America as either impoverished or otherwise living in low-income conditions, 250 members of Congress — nearly half of the Hill — can say that they are legit millionaires. In Washington DC, one-in-ten residents live below half of the poverty line — but if you can track down Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) in his Capitol Hill chamber, you might be able to borrow a few bucks from the richest man in Congress — who holds onto $294.21 million in assets.

Rep. McCaul wasn’t always as lucky. Back in 2005, his worth was only at around $12 million. But with dozens of lawmakers worth more than just one or two millions, those that they represent think that perhaps their vote isn’t being cast by a voice that really represents the people.

“There’s always a concern that they can’t truly understand or relate to the hardships that their constituents feel — that rich people just don’t get it,” Representative Laura Richardson tells The New York Times. While Rep. Richardson might have an office on Capitol Hill, the Democrat from California is also in debt to the tune of $464,000. She is among the poorest members of Congress, but that group isn’t exactly a big one. Regardless, with 200-plus lawmakers pulling in the multi-millions, it’s easy to see why the so-called 99 percenters feel poorly represented in America today.

The National Defense Authorization Act that recently cleared Congress has become a hot topic for debate among average Americans who fear the provisions in the bill that will allow for the US to detain and torture citizens indefinitely. Despite petitions and pleas from coast-to-coast, the legislation passed overwhelmingly. As it turns out, many politicians may be representatives of the people, but their voices are ones bought by corporations. Senator Robert Portman (R-Ohio) not only voted in favor of the NDAA, he also received $272,853 from the special interest groups that backed the bill.

For others, incomes are subsidized in other ways. Rep. Pastor from Arizona, his income is also subsidized by Social Security. If that makes you angry tough, don’t worry — you’re not alone. A study conducted by CBS News in conjunction with The New York Times this October revealed that Americas’ job approval rating of Congress was at an all time low. A similar poll this summer courtesy of the Washington Post revealed that Americans were more into human cloning than Congress, too.

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