Impoverished on Capitol Hill

For those of us who live in Washington, D.C., the debates in Congress that project themselves across the nation often have more than a little irony.

A current case in point is the furor over the proposed congressional pay hike. We have heard a virtual chorus of complaints and self-pity from members of Congress -- liberals and conservatives alike -- who say they are not making enough money. Members of Congress make $89,500 per year. Lucrative pension programs are added on to those salaries, plus speaking honorariums, as well as a vast array of congressional perks worth tens of thousands more -- free travel, free medical care, housing deductions, and Diners Club cards, for example.

The original proposal called for a 50 percent pay raise, elevating each member of Congress to $135,000 a year. The defense of the impoverished legislators is that the Washington area is expensive and the cost of maintaining two residences, for example, is prohibitive.

For many people around the country, including other residents of the District of Columbia, the arguments on behalf of the pay raise are a bitter pill to swallow. This same Congress refused to raise the minimum wage for the poorest of citizens. And, over the last eight years, Congress has been slashing and gutting the social programs that most benefit those on the bottom of American life.

The cost of living, especially housing, in the nation's capital and its suburbs is truly outrageous. But Washington, D.C., as has often been described in these pages, is a "tale of two cities." From the vantage point of those who inhabit the "other Washington," the idea of a pay raise for those who rule the "official Washington" is obscene. Has anyone suggested that District of Columbia welfare payments be raised 50 percent to help with the city's increasing cost of living?

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