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Ever Seen a Homeless Former Lawmaker?


As Congressmen and Senators flail about trying to figure out whether or how or if to extend unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans- the class divide between our lawmakers and those they represent has never been so evident.

They do not understand our world because they are not of it. Nearly half of all our national lawmakers are millionaires; 261 of them. In the real world, only 1% of us can claim millionaire status. A new study by the Center for Responsive Politics finds the median wealth of a U.S. House member is $765,000. The U.S. Senate is a more exclusive club, of course, and the median wealth there is $2.38 million.

Interestingly enough, while the economy has been in the crapper, the average wealth of our national lawmakers increased by more than 16% between 2008 and 2009.

The Harsh Reality for Some

Here, now, some numbers from that part of the world that is so foreign to our well-to-do representatives:

The National Employment Law Project says 26 states will be phasing out extended jobless benefits between December 4th and January 1st. The Labor Department figures 635,000 people will be cut off from unemployment benefits by December 11th, more than 1.6 million by Christmas and 3.29 million by the end of January.

The number of food stamp recipients, already at a record-high of nearly 42 and half million, is likely to soar.

And people have never been jobless this long…ever before. Those who have been unemployed for six months or more now make up 45.5% of the total of unemployed Americans. There are approximately 5 job seekers for each job-opening in the country.

This is why people are running out of unemployment benefits and soon to be applying for food stamps, seeking help from family and friends, applying for community resource and state programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

The Comfy Reality of the Elite Political Class

What happens to the poor politician who gets thrown out of office or retires? Here’s a clue: It doesn’t involve food stamps.

No, generally, they have a brand, spanking new career ahead of them as lobbyists or CEO’s or become members of various boards of directors of large multi-national corporations.

There is a ridiculously feeble law that prohibits lawmakers from cashing in within the first year of leaving office- but after that it’s easy pickings.

Here are but a few examples:

After his re-election defeat, former Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, promptly took a position with the K Street lobbying firm of Alston & Bird. For that 1st year he couldn’t be an actual registered lobbyist, he was appointed a “special policy advisor.” Alston & Bird’s clients include CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth. Between January and September of 2008, the firm was paid nearly $6 million to represent these companies and associations before Congress and the executive branch. In 2008, Senator Daschle reportedly made $2 million. He was recommended for the position at the lobbying firm by an old buddy, former Senator Minority leader, Bob Dole. They take really good care of each other.

Before he became Vice President, based on his experience as a Congressman ,White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney became CEO of Halliburton which, of course, makes its money getting government contracts. Cheney’s net worth, reported to be between $30 million and $100 million, came mostly from the Halliburton gig as well as his gross income of nearly $9 million.

Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin resigned from his seat and went on to head up the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA, a trade group that represents pharmaceutical companies. He left last June and pulled in a cool $2.5 million a year. Tauzin had other options. The Motion Picture Association of America offered him $1 million a year to lobby for the film industry but got outbid by PhRMA.

Former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, left Capitol Hill to join the lobbying team for the law firm, DLA Piper as a “senior policy advisor.” He reportedly made $750,000 a year there. He then joined FreedomWorks, a conservative political group with a simple motto: Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom. As of 2008, he was making $550,000 a year there, and if that sounds low, it’s deceiving. He made $250 thousand a year from FreedomWorks, toiling for 18 hours a week. The other $300,000 came from related organizations, according to IRS filings.

Former House Majority Leader, Dick Gephardt ended 30 years of service in Congress in 2005 and started his own lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. He joined the EMBARQ Corporation board of directors in June, 2007. In March 2009, Mr. Gephardt was named to the board of directors at the Ford Motor Company. A couple of months ago he was named to the board of directors of Amerilink Telecom, a U.S. distributor of products from Huawei Technologies, a giant Chinese telecommunications company. I don’t have his income figures, but food stamps are not part of the picture.

In Conclusion….

I’ve got nothing against public service. In fact, it seems like a great deal, with an inescapably obvious and lucrative career path. But the world these men and women live in, while in office and after they leave it, resembles nothing like the lives led by normal, average Joe Six-Pack Americans. By the way, I’ve also got nothing against millionaires and if I could figure out a way to become one, would gladly do so.

But if you wonder why these folks seem tone-deaf sometimes…if you wonder why they don’t seem to care all that much about people who are unemployed and are about to lose their jobless benefits- their last source of income in this world….if you wonder why they are SO disconnected from the lives of ordinary, hard-working Americans- it is because their lives and, most likely, yours- have very little to do with one another.

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