Does Congress really earn that $174K salary?

Published 6:13 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Since 2001, Congress has been in session for an average of 138 days per year. How does that compare to ‘Average Joe’ and his work schedule?

Well, Average Joe typically works 245 days per year, accounting for the standard two week’s vacation, six holidays and 52 two-day weekends.

Members of Congress make $174,000 per year, except for those in leadership positions who receive additional salary of almost $20,000.

Email newsletter signup

This means they make $1,260.86 per day that they are in session.

Of course, being in session doesn’t mean they are actually in either the Senate or House chamber voting on bills or writing bills. Senators and Representatives are constantly coming and going from the chambers to attend to other “business” (which may well mean meeting with lobbyists and raking in money for their next campaign, as some cynics might suggest).

Now, if Average Joe were hauling in $1,260.86 for each day he (or she) worked, he or she would be making $308,913 per year, or perhaps six times today’s average working person’s salary.

And yet, Jim Moran, a Democrat Representative from Virginia suggests members of Congress are underpaid.

But some members of Congress don’t even need this pittance of a salary since they list assets in the millions of dollars.

Moran, for instance, prior to a very expensive divorce, was said to have $12.7 million dollars of assets.

So, comparing the 138 work days of Congress to the 245 work days of Average Joe, it is obvious those we send to the hallowed halls of the Capitol actually work 107 days less than the person who they claim to represent.

This difference represents just over 15 weeks less at the job; 15 weeks!

Is this reasonable?

There will always be the stipulation that, even though Congress is not actually in session for some 15 weeks each year, Senators and Representatives are busy doing research, going on trips (at government expense) to fact-find, or visiting their constituents at home. All true, but why can’t our representatives do all this during those weekends or holidays?

Look, the compensation of Congresspersons is not a hidden fact. Those who run for the positions should know ahead of time just what they will be making. And one mustn’t ignore the added incentives members of Congress get. They get free parking at the two Washington airports. They have a free on-site gym. They have healthcare subsidies under the ACA (yes, that health plan that so many have vilified since it was started).

After 20 years, they can retire with a $59,000 pension (compared to about $15,000 for the typical Social Security recipient). Some flights to their home states are free.

Representatives get a $900,000 allowance for staff and $250,000 for office expenses; Senators get nearly $3 million.

Even though Congress hasn’t received a pay raise since 2009, it certainly seems that their remuneration is pretty adequate.

From 1789 to 1855 — that’s 66 years — Congress members (who were all men at the time) received a daily compensation of $6, except for two years, 1815 to 1817, when, for some reason, they got $1,500. each year.

This was because, at that time, a Congressman was expected to serve out short terms and then go home and resume their previous line of work.

Today, being a member of Congress is a lifetime ambition.

If salary were related to work, that $174,000 would likely be a good deal less, and deservedly so.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at