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How About Pay…for NO Performance?


Is it me, or can’t the media close the door on this supposedly do-nothing Congress fast enough? Tucked in the same newspaper that featured a lovely GOP-bashing column, entitled, “Republicans Embrace Their Phoniness,” yet another political missive bemoaning this overpaid, under-performing bunch we call Congress.

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But give the Washington Post’s Philip Bump an “A,” for creativity. In this stinging rebuke of supposed Republican intransigence, Bump bumps some salary numbers back and forth and concludes, pretty much like the headline suggests that, “No Congress in four decades has been paid more to do less than this one.”

This time, the Post writer pegs congressmen and women’s pay to their performance. And since the newspaper, like so many others, has blasted Congress for doing so little, you can just imagine how that formula worked out. Not surprisingly, not well.

First, let me cut to the conclusion -- Congress produced so little legislation, and passed so few laws, our national leaders are essentially robbing us blind, and not worth anything close to the $174,000 they’re making each year.

Examining data from the Congressional Research Service, the article concludes that those in Congress get paid a lot to essentially do a whole lot of nothing.

Comparing the number of bills signed into law each year with the adjusted salary of congressmen and women each year, this particular Congress is a stand-out for not getting much of anything out. “Truly, no Congress in 40 years has been paid more to pass less legislation than the 113th, current Congress,” Bump concludes. “If Congress were paid by the bill at 1990 levels (a particularly active time for legislation), each member would take home a cool $21,000 this year – a savings to the federal budget of nearly $82 million.”

Still, as bad as things are for Congress this year, apparently it’s a tad more productive than it was last year – the all-time winner in all-time do-nothing Congresses. But again, “do-nothing,” as defined by this columnist quoting this particular study that uses this particular metric – legislation or laws passed.

To be fair, Bump throws a bone to conservatives by pointing out that the number of bills signed into law works for them as well, since it takes a passed law to repeal or scale back something, “so if you want smaller government, you still want Congress passing legislation,” quoting GovTrack’s Josh Tauberer.

I’ll try and go with that one, but stop me if you’ve heard any of this before – bemoaning Congress for not doing more, for not legislating more, and implementing more. Put another way, Congress is being judged by “stuff it’s cooking up.”

It must be busy. It must be passing more laws and rules and regulations. It must be enacting things, and doing things, and it must be doing all of these things at a pace back to the great, old days of 1990, presumably among the high-water years for getting things churned out (wouldn’t the first President Bush be proud?)

I’m not here to fault the findings of a study, just the litmus test used to come up with those findings. The media has a very hard time understanding that the fault with Washington isn’t that it’s not doing enough – the fault with Washington is that it’s doing too much. Too many rules. Too many regulations. Too many tax laws. Too many “inversion” carve-outs. The problem with Congress, and with Washington in general, is that it’s been too busy complicating our lives, and not busy enough, simplifying our lives.

It defines its worth by what it does, and not more succinctly, what it doesn’t. That’s an inherent problem right there. It’s the methodology that stinks. Believe me, I think there’s a case to be made for dealing with the big issues that matter – including addressing entitlement spending, and streamlining the overall cost and efficiency of government.

But I’m also a believer in the “new tie” principle. I subscribe to this one myself. Every time I buy a new tie, I throw an old one out. The same with a new shirt or even a suit. Before they go in my closet, I take an old shirt or old suit from my closet. Washington must go even further. For every new law it even considers putting on the books, it better remove one or several others already on the books. Otherwise, those books get unbearably big, and all the stuff in them, unbearably unwieldy.

The Washington Post is right to say it takes a law or legislation to undo a law or piece of legislation. But it and so many others in the mainstream media are wrong to imply that the litmus test for getting something done is to add to what’s already been done.

Sometimes it takes a single regulation to outlaw countless useless regulations. Or a sweeping law to nullify all stupid laws. I’m being silly but to make this serious point – it’s not Congress that’s the problem; it’s the way the media judges how it can make itself a success. And doing more of the same thing these days isn’t going to make for better days. Far from it. We’re in the pickle we’re in because these guys can’t stop themselves from doing harm.

The least we in the media can do is reward the behavior that will make a difference; and not recognize the same old nonsense that has yet to make any difference.

What do you think?

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