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to the Editor
Practice what you preach
posted March 30, 2009
By Rep. Gresham Barrett
South Carolinians are justifiably outraged that executives at American
International Group, a company that shares a bulk of the burden of
responsibility for our current economic condition, would be rewarded
bonuses for mismanagement using taxpayer dollars.
Last week, the House Financial Services Committee, a committee on which
I serve, held a hearing regarding these bonuses with Edward Liddy, the
acting CEO for AIG. As I listened to members of Congress skewer Mr.
Liddy, an individual who is working for a dollar a year and who came
out of retirement at the government's request to help clean up the mess
left behind by AIG's former management, I could not help but think of
the hypocrisy of our own House.
At its core, the outrage over AIG is about not rewarding mismanagement
with taxpayer money. However, one of the greatest examples of
mismanagement is what continues to occur in Congress. It stands to
reason then that the same folks who gave us the AIG bonuses, who gave
us 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill, who gave us a
record-breaking deficit and an ineffective stimulus bill, should be the
last people to receive a taxpayer-funded bonus.
But, that's exactly what they got.
For the past 20 years, members of Congress have received an automatic
taxpayer-funded annual bonus. To make matters even worse, members never
had to vote on the bonus. That way they would not be criticized for
voting themselves a raise. This year, rank-and-file members received a
$4,700 pay hike. House leadership received even more.
Just to put things into perspective, Speaker Nancy Pelosi now receives
an annual salary of $223,500 -- not to mention access to U.S. Air Force
Gulfstream jets. Those kinds of perks and privileges sound pretty
similar to me to the ones afforded to the corporate executives that
members of Congress are so quick to criticize.
For the record, I do not think we earned the additional money, and so I
made the decision to contribute my bonus to Anderson Interfaith
Ministries, a local faith-based organization committed to providing
assistance to the needy. I will continue to contribute any additional
pay increases to local charities until the automatic pay raise
provision is put to a stop.
Growing up in Westminster, which is geographically 793 miles from Wall
Street and ideologically about as far away as you can get, I learned
that you should always practice what you preach. Meaning that if
Congress is going to go about trying to set salary caps and revoke
bonuses for businesses throughout the country, we should get our own
House in order first.
We need to set strict government spending limits and tie government
growth to the rate of inflation. We should fix the flaws in the
legislative process that allowed for last-second changes to a nearly $1
trillion bill that ultimately resulted in the AIG bonus controversy. We
need to reform the broken earmark procedure and we must open wide the
doors of the backrooms that block transparency and accountability.
Until we do so, we should not take another dime in taxpayer-funded
To that end, I introduced legislation last year to stop the automatic
congressional pay raise. But House Democrats blocked my proposal. I
reintroduced an updated version of the bill earlier this year, and
while the Senate unanimously passed a similar piece of legislation on
March 17, House Democrats have refused to bring my bill to the floor
for a vote.
Furthermore, I think it only makes sense that in a year when there is
no projection for a balanced budget and when Medicare, Medicaid and
Social Security are all projected to go broke, that members of Congress
should automatically be paid one dollar. These massive government
programs are unsustainable yet Congress has failed to act and failed to
offer a real solution, leaving behind what everyone agrees is a
disaster for others to clean up.
The people of South Carolina have my word that I will continue to fight
for accountability in Congress. I will defend at every turn what I
believe are the taxpayer's best interests, and I will work tirelessly
to promote common sense legislation that holds members of Congress to
the highest ethical standards.
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