Congress Wants a Raise

Since the Constitution is so important and we’re doing a series on the Constitution and the Amendments, an important question must be asked:  how do we Amend the Constitution? As our society has changed, so too has the document which outlines the powers given to the government, the states and the people. The framers of the Constitution understood that changes to the original language may need to be made, so within the Constitution lays the answer for how to make changes, or amend the Constitution. Article 5 states:

“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

To date there are a twenty-seven Amendments. Rather than starting at the beginning and working our way forward, we’re going in reverse order. That’s right, we’re going to start with the most current Amendment and work our way back to the most famous and some would say most important Amendment, the first. For now though, let’s look at the 27the Amendment which states:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

You might be surprised to find out that the 27the Amendment, outlining that Congress cannot give themselves a raise while still in office has been around since September 25, 1789. It was originally an idea suggested as one of the first ten Amendments, as part of the Bill of Rights, but there were not enough states that voted to ratify it. It wasn’t until May 7, 1992 that it was declared ratified as enough states passed votes on it. Initially Benjamin Franklin wanted to recommend that Congressmen be volunteers, that is, not receive any payment for their service to the country and their countrymen. As you can imagine, that suggestion was quickly shot down. Since then, the salary of rank-and-file members has steadily increased. In 2010 the salary was $174,000 per year. Leadership Members were paid at a slightly higher rate. The Speaker of the House makes $223,500 per year while in both Houses the Minority and Majority Leaders make $193,400 per year.

These numbers are of particular interest as according to the US Census Bureau, the median income in the US in 2008 was $52,029. Your basic rank-and-file member of Congress is making 334% more than the median income earner. If I really wanted to get you going, I could mention that according to the Monthly Statistical Snapshot of the Social Security Office’s Research, Statistics, & Policy Analysis Department, the average yearly benefit paid out is $12,891. This means that Congressmen make 1349% more than the average person existing on social security alone. Which means, if you’re the average Congressman (age 55.9 years for Representatives and 61.7 years for Senators per the CSR Report for Congress 2008), you’re doing pretty well compared to others Americans in your age bracket. Especially when you get an automatic cost-of-living adjustment unless a measure is put forth to block it, as was done for the 2010 increase. But they shouldn’t feel bad, social security recipients aren’t getting COLA either.

Of course, you need not worry about how much more (or less) Student Congressmen and Congresswomen are making. Since we are on campus and want to tie in the UNC’s Student Code, we have a new question for you this week. Here it is- where in UNC’s Constitution does it say “No member of Congress shall be entitled to nor shall he/she accept a stipend, salary, or any other form of compensation for the purpose of serving as a student representative in Student Congress from any student organization” (answer to appear at end of column)? That’s right, members of student congress should not be receiving any compensation. So what does that mean for lobbyists? Please, you didn’t think that student organizations receiving money from student congress  did so without the help of a little lobbying, did you? Well, at least we don’t have to worry about our Student Congress Representatives giving themselves a raise while in office.

The answer: Title II Legislative Affairs, Permanent Rules of Student Congress, Article X Ethics, Section 338, B.

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