January 10 2014
Patrice J. Lee
Members of Congress are called a lot of negative things, some of which are well deserved. One label is stirring ire on the left: wealthy. But is that such a bad thing?
According to new analysis by the liberal Center for Responsive Politics, for the first time ever, more than half of current members are millionaires.
CNN Money reports:
Among the 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more for 2012, the CRP said, citing disclosure forms filed last year. A year ago, the total stood at 257 members, or about 48%.
The group said the new figure "represents a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code."
CRP executive director Sheila Krumholz said the data reflect the reality that "in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with."
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa from California takes the top spot with an average net worth of almost $465 million followed by Democrats Mark Warner from Virginia with $257 million and Jared Polis from Colorado with just under $200 million.
At the tail end of the spectrum are California’s Rep. David Valadao and Florida’s Alcee Hastings. Both are in the red for millions. For Hastings that stems from legal bills over his bribery charges in the 1980’s.
Progressives are quick to latch on to this ranking to make the point that Congressional lawmakers are out of touch with the people they represent. They also blame wealth on why some members oppose growing government and policies that continue to keep Americans dependent on government.
A senior policy analyst at Demos explains:
"This coming out now when you see Congress refusing to extend unemployment insurance is so telling," Cha said.
A growing body of research around the views of the affluent and how those views dominate U.S. politics has revealed that the wealthy have different economic policy priorities than the poor and middle class, and those priorities receive far more attention in the government than the priorities of other economic classes.
Cha pointed to the repeated success in cutting capital gains taxes versus the difficulty in raising the federal minimum wage. "If you think about who is impacted by the minimum wage, and the sheer number of people who are impacted by the minimum wage versus capital gains, it just shows that the affluent and money is just dominating our policy," she said.
Let’s not be so quick to throw stones. What’s missing in this analysis is how members made their wealth prior to election. A little research reveals that a good number of the made members were self-made.
The 113th Congress has physicists, engineers, orchard owners, ranchers, physicians, software executives, veterinarians, and auto dealership owners. Issa made his millions from his car alarm business. Florida’s Vernon Buchanan made most of his millions is from his automotive empire which includes multiple dealerships in the Sunshine State. Maryland’s John k. Delaney was a serial businessman who founded two New York Stock Exchange-listed companies before the age of 40.
The point is that we shouldn’t fall for the income inequality rhetoric and us versus them politics that is being trotted out for political ends.
Americans admire entrepreneurs and small business owners who develop their businesses and succeed. These are people who drive employment, national growth and prosperity for our nation. Wealth should not be demonized nor should those who work hard to earn their financial success – even if they are our representatives.