Home > Nick Kristof, The New York Times > I’m Tempted Too

I’m Tempted Too

Nicholas Kristof’s newest column asks, “Why Pay Congress?” if they’re just going to act like children and shut down the government while other government workers don’t get paid.

If we careen over a cliff on Friday and the American government shuts down, hard-working federal workers will stop getting paychecks, but the members of Congress responsible for the shutdown are expected to be paid as usual.

That’s partly because Congressional pay is not subject to the regular appropriations process, and partly because of Constitutional concerns.

Kristof’s using this issue to generate anger at our irresponsible elected officials more than to make a principled stand on a Constitutional question.  So it’s not what his column is about, but I think his title question deserves a bit more of an answer than the vague, “Constitutional concerns.” Populist anger often vents over paying the crooks that run the joint, so why not cut them off or lower their pay?

That populist anger is (no surprise) misplaced. Turns out Congress and the President get healthy paychecks for different populist reasons. This helps weaken the influence of bribes and prevents Congress from using the purse strings as political weapons to influence votes. More fundamentally, without compensation only independently wealthy or crooked politicians could serve. A living wage, in theory, allows common people to govern. This American custom contrasted directly with the British, misnamed, House of Commons.

Sadly, the expense of campaigns has made this ideal mostly a theory. I have a lot of reservations about this, but the Founders’ logic should make us consider the public funding of campaigns.

But, geez, they really really make me want to cut off their paychecks.

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