A protester during the partial government shutdown in fall 2013. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The median American household income was $51,371 in 2012. That’s $122,000 and change less than a rank-and-file member of Congress.
A lot of ink already has been spilled criticizing Rep. James P. Moran’s insensitive comments to CQ Roll Call’s Hannah Hess last week about members of Congress being “underpaid.” To be fair, Washington, D.C., is not a cheap place to live, and salaries are higher here than the national average. Moran’s district in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia had a 2012 median income of $88,233.
But I’ll remind the Virginia Democrat, who fretted pay has “been frozen for three years,” that regular raises and adjustments for cost-of-living are few and far between for the American people. Things are more expensive and wages are flat.
Is Moran an easy target? Absolutely. And he’s not alone.
Outside of the words he spoke, it would be difficult to paint Moran as an elitist snob. He’s among the poorest members. He was raised in a working-class Massachusetts family, commutes to work in a car, not an airplane, and he’s seen his share of hard times. As one of Congress’ more liberal members, Moran has advocated for policies that would boost the poor, increase the minimum wage and invest in programs that would aid low-income communities.
But when you earn six figures, plus more than the national median income above that, you are not underpaid. Period. This is one reason the American people view you as completely out of touch.
A voter might wonder when hearing something like that — from Moran, or from Republican Reps. Michael McCaul or Renee Ellmers — how members of Congress could possibly understand the average American’s life and daily struggle to make ends meet.
By just about any measure, a member’s job is not difficult. Getting there in a hard-fought campaign might have been a challenge, but the work isn’t.
There is no physical labor involved. You can rely on a professional corps of staffers. Your retirement fund is not only secure, it’s guaranteed for life. You work in a beautiful, air-conditioned building in nice offices in a city where there are people sleeping on the streets.
I’ve given some speeches lately about politics in Washington, and I usually include a punchline that Congress’ record-low approval ratings have helped people working as similarly unpopular journalists and stock brokers breathe a sigh of relief.
I appreciate the material, but c’mon.