Arlene Violet: Time to tune into Congress

By Arlene Violet
Posted 12/4/20

With citizens’ rapt attention focused on whom would be the next occupant of the Oval Office, members of Congress have gotten a pass despite their failure to pass any major 2020 legislation save …

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Arlene Violet: Time to tune into Congress


With citizens’ rapt attention focused on whom would be the next occupant of the Oval Office, members of Congress have gotten a pass despite their failure to pass any major 2020 legislation save for the initial Covid-19 related response. The official Congressional Record lists some 95 acts passed to date mostly of such accomplishments as confirming board members for the Smithsonian Institution (2 bills), water basin designations, etc.

The Senate met on Nov. 24 in pro forma session at 12:15 p.m. and adjourned until 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27. No committee meetings were held. The House of Representatives on Nov. 24, met at 10 a.m. and adjourned at 10:02 a.m. Lest you think this was because of the Thanksgiving holiday, a week before, the Senate convened at 10 a.m., adjourned at 7:24 p.m. with only 5 (out of 16 standing and 67 subcommittees) meetings and passed earth-shattering bills like naming a courthouse after one of their prior confreres, Orrin Hatch, designating a day for recognition of Impact aid day, Direct Support Professionals Day, and votes on postponements of some nominations while approving others.

Another day, the House met at 10 a.m. (recessed at 10:29 a.m. until noon) and adjourned at 6:16 pm. Some relatively substantial matters relating to violence, drug addiction, quality child care etc. were passed.

I wondered how many days a year does Congress work. Records indicate that members on average work fewer than 2 days a week (legislative days) although members will argue that they work many more times than that since they attend parades, ribbon-cutting, media relations, etc. back in their respective districts. (Office staff handles most constituent issues).

Benefits include a base salary of $174,000 (leadership makes more). A taxpayer-funded pension, in addition to Social Security, is vested after 5 years of service with eligibility at age 50 with full pensions conferred at age 62. For each year of service the pension increases by $2000 per year. Workers comp is also paid if the Member becomes injured or ill. In 2012 Jesse Jackson, Jr was approved for a $138,400 disability payment by claiming that Congress made him mentally ill. During his time in congress he was convicted of using about $750,000 in campaign funds for vacations and gifts to himself. To date he would have collected about $1 million (records are guarded by privacy laws). He’s only 55 years old. Corruption doesn’t strip you of a benefit.

I’ll skip over travel, moonlighting (Congressional members can have second jobs), license plates that allow the member to skip over lines, free parking in illegal zones, subsidized health insurance, cheap haircuts and meals to pose two questions:

• Don’t you think it is about time for these legislators to get to real work?

People are dearly suffering from actual COVID -19 or the effects of the coronavirus. Food insecurity and losses of business continue to pile up. The United States Senate led by the Republicans went home after the House passed its additional COVID Relief bill. Months later when the Senate finally took it up nothing happened. It appears dead in the water since the same do-nothings were returned to office and President Trump no longer has any motivation, having lost the election.

• Is that the kind of government you think you deserve?

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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