For about a decade now there has been a pay freeze in effect for Congress. Many in Congress felt that it was time to end that and give themselves a raise. (You know, for the job that they are all doing so well.) One of the loudest voices calling for the so-called “cost of living” adjustment was freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The plans for the modest pay bump of $4,700 to be added to the current salary of $174,000 ran into a bit of trouble when Democrats in competitive districts expressed concerns that voting for the raise would hurt them in 2020. The idea that such a pay increase would be an attack ad waiting to be used by Republicans seemed to resonate with Democratic leadership as the plan has been shelved (at least for now).
Ocasio-Cortez, who identifies as a democratic socialist and has called for equality in America, has repeatedly called for a raise for legislators. The fact that her current salary is more than three times the average salary in America doesn’t seem to register on her inequality meter as she continues to defend the postponed, bipartisan plan for the wage increase. She has made, what to many seems a compelling argument that it is because of the “low pay” and lack of “cost of living adjustments” that the Congress is susceptible to “Dark Money” and lobbyist. The argument is a bogus one. Dark money and lobbyist influence are a matter of personal character. If what Congress gets paid is the issue then the problem will never be fixed because the salary is never going to match the millions of dollars that can flow into the bank accounts of those “representatives” who are willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder.
Ocasio-Cortez ignores two basic facts about her job. The first thing is something that a lot of others who go to D.C. seem to have forgotten. To be an elected office holder means you are there to do “the People’s business.” You are supposed to be performing a public service while understanding that the opportunity to serve is an honor. If you comprehend these facts, then it shouldn’t matter what the pay rate is as the work is its own reward. As you may have read on a bumper sticker somewhere, “Character Counts,” and there are few places where it counts more than in Congress.
The second thing that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is ignoring is that pay increases should be merit-based. Congress has done very little to make a case for a raise. The fact that the pay increase was referred to as a “cost of living adjustment” suggests that even they aren’t prepared to claim Congress has “earned” a change in salary. (Although, I think a case for a reduction in pay could be made.) In Congress, the business of winning elections is now prioritized over the “People’s business.” That is not what Ocasio-Cortez or any of the other Representatives were sent to Washington to do. Perhaps if she and her fellow travelers were to change their focus to doing the job, a raise wouldn’t be such a hard sell.
In the private sector, raises are based on performance. I wouldn’t think that AOC had been in D.C. long enough to forget that. But then maybe she has just never been good enough at anything she has done to earn a raise.