Even the lawmakers who say they “get it” don’t really “get it.” For them it’s an abstraction. They think they know what those poor middle-class people care about.
They are advised by their aides and consultants that the failure to extend something like the payroll tax cut would hurt the finances of the regular people. But they don’t really know because, by any standard- our lawmakers are very wealthy people who live in a world far different than most of their constituents.
Here are the figures. There are 535 members of Congress; 100 Senators and 435 members of the House. Between them, there are 261 millionaires. Last year, the Center for Responsive Politics found that the median wealth of a House member was $765,000. The median wealth of a U.S. Senator was $2.38 million. And during the worst of the Great Recession, lawmaker’s median wealth increased 16% between 2008 and 2009.
For a $50,000 a year income, repealing the payroll tax cut costs that worker $160 monthly or $40 a week.
So what‘s $40 to somebody worth a million or ten million or a hundred million? Not even couch change. It’s nothing.
- Half a tank of gas for an SUV? They wouldn’t know. They don’t drive cars, they have drivers.
- A little extra money to buy prescription drugs? They wouldn’t know. Congress has the best health care coverage in America. They’ve never had to use an HMO and they certainly don’t have to worry about paying out of pocket for medications.
-Eight roasted chickens at Costco? They wouldn’t know. Forty bucks barely covers the tip for a couple of steak dinners and several cocktails at Morton’s.
-Nine gallons of milk/ Ten 20-ounce loaves of bread? Actually, they do know these figures because they get briefed on them by aides so they won’t get embarrassed if some wise-ass reporter asks them.
- Half the price of a one-way ticket on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional for the holiday visit to grandma’s in New Jersey? They wouldn’t know. They take the Acela. 1st Class.
- A really cheap pair of shoes? They wouldn’t know. A pair of Ferragamo men’s shoes goes for about $600. The low end of Manolo Blahnik’s for women go for about $700.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t mind being rich myself. But when they fight for us regular people, it’s usually because doing so helps ensure they remain on the pathway to power and wealth. After all, it’s the little people who elect them. I’m not saying they don’t care. It’s just that when they consider the tough times most people are going through, they have to imagine that world. They certainly don’t inhabit it.
Some would accuse me of waging class warfare. I would respond that it’s not war when one side has all the weapons. But it is class cluelessness.