The Budget Battles in DC: A Bunch of Millionaires Scheming to Steal from the Old, the Sick and the Poor

That the rich relentlessly thieve from the poor is hardly fresh news, but a more attentive institutional press might see fit to mention, at least once in a while, how well off the negotiators wrangling over how deeply to cut social welfare programs are. Nobody in Congress will ever have to rely on Social Security to stay solvent, or on Medicare or Medicaid to stay alive.


The press might also see fit to mention that even the most impoverished inhabitants of Congress, even if they never work another day in their lives, have no other income and never get a dime from Social Security, will almost certainly take home more in retirement pay--they get generous pensions and taxpayer-assisted 401-K plans--than the median income in this country.

2009 financial disclosure numbers show Joe Biden as one of the few people involved in the negotiations who wasn't worth something comfortably in the seven figure range during that year. (He may actually have been in the red.) The average net worth of the people who will be voting on the fate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid was about $3.4 million in the House and an astonishing $13.6 million in the Senate.

And that was in 2009, when the stock market was struggling for most of the year and investment portfolios had taken massive hits. But Congress still had 237 millionaires, almost 45% of the 535 federal legislators.

Of course Biden isn't the only participant skating close to the financial edge. John Boehner and Barack Obama may each have been worth as little as $2 million in 2009 (or as much as $14 million, but whatever). So too might Eric "Robespierre" Cantor, who appears intent on inflicting his own version of the Reign of Terror upon the least of us. Paul Ryan, whose name one doesn't hear much anymore following the implosion of his brand, is among the group who took major haircuts during the meltdown; he lost something like 50% of his net worth, and his 2009 assets were at a paltry million-plus.

These are numbers that should be part of every story about cuts in safety net programs. They're not hard to find. Compiling the averages for each chamber of Congress and the individual net worth of the people mentioned here took about 20 minutes. The rough calculations on pensions--if they quit today, the six legislators in the Biden group would take home an average of $40,000/year on top of their 401-K incomes--took another hour or so.

The wealth of these people should be part of their names. The photo showing showing Boehner and Obama playing golf should have been captioned, "Millionaire president Barack Obama discusses Medicare cuts with millionaire Congressman John Boehner over a chuckle at the country club."

Eric Cantor should always be introduced to a story as a multi-millionaire: "Multi-millionaire Congressman Eric Cantor complained today that cuts proposed by multi-millionaire president Barack Obama do too little to unravel the safety net for the poor and elderly."

"Republican senator Mitch McConnell, whose net worth at the height of the recession was at least $7 million, said today that the federal government can no longer subsidize health care for people earning as much as $17,000."

Would that practice have an impact on perceptions of the debate, and ultimately on the debate itself? I think so.

The conflict over entitlements is not the lone issue for which personal finances would provide really useful context; it's only the most urgent one. But the press rarely report on Congressional wealth beyond the obligatory flurry of stories during the period when legislators release their financial disclosure statements.

The Veteran's Administration offers the most cost-effective health care in the country and ranks among the best in patient satisfaction as well. But VA health care and other veterans programs are under constant assault from the GOP even as the agency strains to meet the new demands placed upon it by veterans of this century's US wars.

Among the most bizarre GOP efforts was the one initiated during the during the budget-cutting frenzy earlier this year by House Republicans to cut funding for a program aimed at reducing homelessness among veterans. It passed. That, surely, would have warranted coverage along the lines of "Millionaire Republicans in Congress have killed a program that helps impoverished homeless veterans ..."

Because it matters. The wealth of its members isn't the only peculiar feature of our federal legislature and executive branch, but it is surely one worth reminding their constituencies of as often as necessary, which is as often as one can. Which means reminding the press of it, as often as necessary, which is as often as one can.

Remember that, next time you write a letter to the editor or email a reporter about stories involving those fabulous creatures of the modern Versailles.

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