THE BLOG
03/05/2013 05:15 pm ET Updated May 05, 2013

A Modest Proposal

I herewith submit a modest proposal for helping to relieve the suffering about to be caused by sequestration. The Republicans want to cut government spending rather than raise taxes. Why don't they start with themselves? I suggest cutting the salaries of all our political representatives by two-thirds. For reasons I'll explain in a moment, while this kind of cut seems more draconian than many in the country are facing (at least those who have jobs), it is really equivalent, and I don't know why Congress should be spared any of the pain that it has so effectively imposed on the rest of us. Yes, on the surface, such savings wouldn't seem to amount to that much, since no senator or congressman, except for the Speaker of the House who takes in $223,500, and the Majority and Minority Leaders and the President pro tempore of the Senate, each of whom earn $193,500, makes more than $174,500. (Why, the Sergeant of Arms and Doorkeeper earns $172,500, and he's basically a policeman).

However, if you consider that Congress is never longer in session than 113 days, which constitutes less than one-third of a year (talk about academic schedules!), then senators and congressmen are making the equivalent of three times their base salaries. And when you take into account the size of of the Senate (100) and the House (435), and add the number of perks shoveled into basic salaries for travel, office, furniture, housing, and entertainment, it could add up to quite a tidy sum -- at least a hundred million dollars annually, by my estimation. That's over a billion by 2025, the deadline for eradicating the national debt.

President Obama might take a lot of wind out of the inevitable gasbag reaction by offering to reduce his own $400,000 salary by two-thirds, and perhaps look over a few of his presidential perquisites, like the $100,000 he gets for travel, the $50,000 for expenses, the $19,000 for entertainment, not to mention his cheap housing (the White House), his subsidized summer home (Camp David), his available guest quarters (Blair House), and his free limo, airplane, and helicopter. This would be an act of real magnanimity, since Obama is really earning his salary most of the year, while many of his colleagues on the Hill are working on a more casual basis. But it would send an important message about how sometimes, though rarely, political acts can have consequences that ricochet back on the careless people who caused them.

I should confess that making politicians pay for their mistakes is not an original idea from me. In fact, the cut in political salaries has been mumbled about for a few weeks now, drawing a predictable response from the Hill, including Nancy Pelosi who said: "I don't think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do. I think it's necessary for us to have the dignity of the job..." I adore Nancy Pelosi, but can she really be that obtuse? At this point in history, virtually no one respects "the work" done by Congress (whose approval ratings are holding fast at 15 percent), while "the job" has lost whatever "dignity" it ever had.

Another idea for cutting back on government spending is to impose a $10,000 fine on any senator or a congressman who misses a roll call. After all, if the major purpose of a legislative body is to legislate, what use is a politician who prefers to canvas his district rather than perform his electoral duties? On the other hand, since I doubt that anyone would want the current Congress to stay in session any longer that it has to, lest the Tea Party and other Republican extremists achieve their desired goal of destroying government altogether, replacing it with a state of unregulated greed, racist repression, and universal gun ownership for its "well-regulated militia," let me rethink this idea. It might be less harmful to encourage these people to remain in their own home towns as long as possible.

The cuts I propose do not have to be painful. After all, Sheldon Adelson could compensate the victims with one wave of his golden pen, or one night's earnings at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Macao. But they could go a long ways towards reducing the fester of the sequester, at least in the earliest of its messy semesters.

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