Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

July 19, 1999

Lavish pay and benefits have no merit
Pay raises for "public servants" generate more cynicism

Apparently the American people are so satisfied with increasing taxes and spending, continued abuse of civil liberties and ongoing unconstitutional programs, that they are willing to give Congress a four-percent pay raise and double the pay of the president.

Don't remember having been so generous? Don't worry, Congress is being generous, again, with your money -- it's really quite easy.
Never mind that as of May 7, 1992, with ratification of the 27th Amendment, Congress is specifically prevented by the Constitution from increasing pay without there being an election between the legislation passing and the raise going into effect.
Industrious congressmen have found a semantic loophole; the four-percent pay raise isn't a pay raise at all, but merely a "cost of living adjustment." A couple hundred dollars might constitute a COLA, but thousands is a pay-raise.
As the cynicism of Americans for their government grows, some congressmen will cast a vote for a big pay raise while expressing shock at the public mistrust.
A pay raise might be in order if Congress were doing its job. If taxes were on the way, if the doors to unconstitutional agencies and programs were being closed, perhaps a pay raise would be in order. Perhaps, but not likely. After all, that would mean Congress was simply doing its job, not doing anything extraordinary.
And then there is the doubling of the president's pay. It must be understood that this new presidential pay scale does not go into effect until the current occupant of the office departs in 2001. Currently, the president receives $200,000 in pay, but congressional action would see his pay top $400,000. The argument in support of such a lavish pay check goes like this: the president is the leader of the free world, and as such should be paid on par with the heads of large corporations. The argument continues that without the incentive of higher pay, we might not be getting the best and brightest. (Of course, there is no CEO of a corporation on the planet that has a $5.6 trillion debt.)
It is obvious we have not had the best these last several years, but that is not a function of pay. In fact, the pay of a president is really the least of his benefits -- regardless of amount. After all, taxpayers foot the bill for the First Family's room and board, a legion of personal servants, a fleet of cars, planes, boats and helicopters. Not to mention nearly unlimited free vacations and the power to command almost any position, speaking fee or posting after their presidency ends. Finally, presidents get paid a healthy pension from the moment they leave office, not to mention a lifetime of taxpayer-funded staff, security and offices.
The problem with the presidency, the Congress, and everyone in between has not been a lack of pay and perks, but an overabundance. Let's face it: serving in Congress, and living in the White House, can be pretty good deals. In fact, for many people, these deals are so good they do not want to leave -- ever. There is tremendous incentive to stay: the power is the bait, the pay, perks and control are the hook.
The most effective term limits would be not a number of years, but a reduction in pay and benefits. I refuse the congressional pension because it is immoral that I could stay in office for only a few years, yet qualify for a lucrative pension the taxpayers must fund for the remainder of my days.
Our founding fathers wisely saw service in elected government as a temporary function, not a lifetime pursuit. They valued the citizen-legislator, who saw himself as a public servant while still making a living in the private sector.
Today, though, those who labor in the private sector are viewed as pariahs, while congressmen increase the tax levy to further lavish "public servants" with generous pay and benefits. What surprises me is not that so many Americans are cynical of their elected officials, but that there are any who are not.