Commentary: From one public servant to another
November 21, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - Maybe Benjamin Franklin had it right when he considered proposing that elected officials forego payment for their services.
While he may have only been referring to congressional salaries, which at the time were an extremely nominal per diem, today's men and women serving in Congress have the added incentives of extremely generous health and pension plans, the allure of soft money and gifts from special interests, as well as the power that comes from years of being ensconced in public office.
As it is now, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate earn an average salary of $174,000 a year, according to about.com, and are guaranteed the same benefits as civil service employees under the Federal Employees Health Benefits and Retirement Systems.
That means when they retire they receive a percentage of their top three consecutive salary earning years while in office -- sums per year in retirement that are more than what most Americans earn during their working years.
I'm guessing that Ben Franklin and many of his fellow Founding Fathers would be alarmed to say the least and definitely have something to say about how payment for public service has developed in a little more than two centuries.
Nearly half of the members of Congress are millionaires.
Leaders and managers talk a lot about doing what's right and doing the right things, but like other federal employees who grow accustomed to the security of a very generous benefits package, the incentive to rock the boat, to bring about real change in Congress is slim to none.
A chain email making the rounds quotes billionaire Warren Buffet as suggesting that to solve the federal government's debt woes, congressmen and women be held to the same standards as any business -- when the federal deficit rises to 3 percent of the gross domestic product, those holding seats (thanks to being elected to serve by their constituents) be ineligible for reelection.
Although, according to interviews, Buffet had nothing to do with the chain email, which offers various suggestions for altering the way business is conducted in the Capitol, his off-hand suggestion during a television interview certainly struck a chord among voters -- whether Tea Party backers, Wall Street occupiers or anyone concerned about the future of the United States.
It's time to demand the same spirit of compromise, intelligent problem-solving and a true desire to serve our fellow Americans from our elected officials that we would expect from our co-workers, service members and all of those who contribute to making our nation one that has stood as a beacon and an example for citizens worldwide.
How do we do that?
We can start by voting.