The Onus of the Bonus
By Isaac MacMillen
When news of the massive bonuses paid out by AIG hit the press, members of Congress tripped over each other running to denounce the largess to the media. But they were strangely silent when it came to the massive bonuses they are offering to their own staff members.
An investigation by the Wall Street Journal uncovered the details of this dubious Capitol Hill practice, which should raise eyebrows among average Americans. This past year, a little over $9 million was doled out in bonuses, some as high as $14,000. That's a hefty sum for a governing body that just spent all of last week condemning AIG for its bonuses (while in the process of running up continuous trillion dollar overdrafts).
But even worse than the fact that the bonuses were paid is why. Every year, Congress is given millions to cover office expenses. What they do not spend gets returned. Ergo, many in Congress are doling out the excessive bonuses to avoid having to return the unspent cash.
The bonuses caused the average staffer's salary to increase by 17% in the final quarter of 2008. Ironically, that number roughly equals the median Congressional approval rating during that same period.
If AIG executives were denounced for receiving contractual bonuses after taking government funds, should not Congress be held to the same—if not a higher—standard? The situation appears even worse when considering that AIG took “only” $173 billion in taxpayer funds, whereas Congress has appropriated trillions in bailouts and stimuli. If Congress were a corporation, they would have filed for bankruptcy decades ago. And all of their executives would have been fired.
The mere fact that the extravagant members of Congress are willing to do anything rather than return the office budget speaks volumes as to their view of money. If they don't have it, they raise taxes. If they have it, they spend it. And if they don't need it, they find something to spend it on anyway. One must wonder—if there was no extra cash remaining in the office budget, would so many members of Congress be waxing eloquent on how their staffers deserved the bonuses? Or are they only seeking yet another excuse to justify their compulsive spending?
Sadly, staffers aren't the only ones getting congressionally-approved bonuses. Last year, the Postmaster General received $134,000 as a performance bonus. That's despite the fact that the USPS lost $2.8 billion that year—and is projected to lose over twice that amount this year—according to FOX News.
Congress, of course, has no one to blame but itself. They may think they are fooling the American people as they tried to do with AIG by approving bonuses—before doing an about-face and denouncing them. But, in the end, however, as more of these cases come to light, their duplicity will be uncovered.
When that happens, however, its doubtful that Congress will react with horror to its own hypocrisy and slap a 90 percent tax on its own earnings. If only. Perhaps then they would actually break the elusive 20 percent in their own approval ratings.
Isaac MacMillen is a Contributing Editor of ALG News Bureau.