Congressional versus Veterans Perks and Benefits and Partisan Media

The year 2013 is coming to a close.  Recess on Capitol Hill is also winding down and the Members of the House of Representatives and United States Senate will return to Washington for another session of not working, but most assuredly grandstanding and preparing for reelection.  The media wrapped snuggly in their partisan blankets will shill for their Party as they castigate all opponents.  People who only listen to one side or the other will continue to blame that someone other.  The deficit and spending will be the talk of cyberspace, but alas neither side is bending, not if they want to remain in this place.

Observational opinions aside, someone asked me and a group why so much money is spent on Congressional campaigns.  Depending on who spoke at the moment, the “reasoning” affixed blame for waste and mismanagement on Democrats, Republicans, RINOs, Liberals, Conservatives, and in my efforts to always be Professor Popular I added in Budget Hawks and Tea Partiers to the list along with all of the above.

Now everyone knows the salary of a Congressman today.  He or she receives $174,000 in pay.  An extravagant or is it a paltry amount one may say, but I say do not to forget to include the MRA.  MRA, what are these, some type of perk?  It’s just another hidden prize of office, unseen by many just like cockroaches who lurk.

An MRA is a Member’s Representational Allowance.  The purpose is to defray costs from what are considered essential components of representational duties.  These components include: personal expenses, office expenses, mailing expenses.  Each component is legitimate in my opinion both from a personal and historical perspective.  Mailing or what is commonly known as the franking privilege expenses should decrease given the technological advances in communication.

For the year 2012, the average MRA in the House of Representatives was $1,353,205.13 per Member.  Salaries for office staff accounted for a majority of that amount as each Member can hire a staff of 18 full time employees and 4 part time workers.

Each Member is required to file a quarterly report for MRA expenditures.  Those reports can be found from the Statements of Disbursement page here.

A downloadable and searchable pdf file of the most recent report is available here.  I encourage everyone to pull up their own representative, and then conduct a comparison with Members of any of the stereotypical groupings listed above, similar or dissimilar voting records or ideologies, or honestly any criteria that you can fathom.  There are exceptions to practically all generalizations and these Members of the House are not excluded, but similarities between the so-called “Liberals” and the so-called “Conservatives” may but hopefully will not surprise you.

With the 16 day government shutdown still in the recent memories of many, various media outlets on all sides of the ideological spectrum ran features on Congressional perks.  One can find many examples, but here is a quick sampling.

The Motley Fool

The Center for Public Integrity

The Huffington Post

FOX News

With this seemingly never ending blame game among the different ideological factions; several people have brought up aspects of the Ryan Murray Bipartisan Budget Compromise.  The text of the Resolution can be read here.

A shorter House summary can be read here.

Veterans and the Compromise

One point in particular is presented to me on a regular basis.  That point involves the cuts to Veterans’ Benefits to provide the additional funding called for in other sections of the Compromise.  Those who know me personally or have read some of my posts know that I believe that a thorough reworking and simplifying of the tax code would not solve our monetary issues, but it would have a tremendous impact.  That approach, however, involves much work and facing the wrath of many powerful special interests which this and recent Congresses do not appear to have the fortitude to take on such a battle.

Giving up many of the perks of office, would prevent the “need” to cut from those with less as well.  I do not see that happening.  One can look at some of the Congressional donations to reduce the deficit in relation to salary, perks, and future benefits and reach that conclusion.  Since the perks are “our money” meaning tax receipts, I believe it is a legitimate reference.  What they earn on their own, regardless of the restrictions to effectively enforce the STOCK Act and limit insider trading is their own money.

The Veterans issue is often brought up to me because of the Louisiana Senate election next year.  Even though I no longer reside in my home state, I have both personal and professional interests.  In other venues, I have cited the Ryan items which he brought from the House to the bargaining table and the Murray items which she brought.  Even though the cuts were a part of House budgeting because the Senate voted last, many focus the blame on that Chamber.  (Personally, I think either we are all responsible or nobody is responsible, and in this case all applies).

Here I’m addressing the media and an issue making the rounds in the Louisiana race.

The Christian Science Monitor featured comments from several Senators of the GOP urging a vote against this Resolution.

FOX News had a similar story on Republican opposition in light of the effect on Veterans.

Breitbart continued the partisan blame, and to its credit the article did correctly note in reference to a Hill article which I have not read that proposed “tweaks” could not be enacted because the House had already declared recess.

Sadly but not surprisingly, I did not find single “conservative” media outlet, however, with any mention of S. 1856, “A bill to repeal section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, relating to an annual adjustment of retired pay for members of the Armed Forces under the age of 62.”  The Senate read this bill twice and referred it to the Committee on Armed Services before that body adjourned.  While a “tweak” was not possible, the Senate could have debated and adopted this separate bill.  Obviously, passage in that Chamber and potential impact in the House are nothing more than speculation.

If one only relied upon media from a single ideological perspective, this bill introduced by Senator Mark Pryor and cosponsored by Senator Kay Hagan would never reach one’s eyes and ears.  Is that because both are Democrats, and in the nonstop election season Democrats must be anti Veteran?  Perhaps that is why President Obama had to write Executive Actions to provide many Veterans with medical services.

I can state that since 2011, approximately 3 percent of bills sent through the Senate Committee on Armed Services have been enacted into law.  One side of the aisle is yelling in support of these Veterans, but doing nothing more once the cameras have left the room.  The other side of the aisle did propose taking action, but the media did not care and the populace is more impressed by talk and not any action.

As to action, sure something got written, proposed, and even read twice.  That’s all very nice, but when it came time to work, perspire, and good ole fashioned sweat; the Senate replied recess for us; the media put forth more rhetoric to raise a fuss, and that seems all that “We the People” get.

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