Looking at the latest DeLay scandals in the continuing excavation of DeLay's immorality, Hilzoy writes:
Why can't these people just live on their salaries? Tom DeLay has an answer: “I challenge anyone to live on my salary.” Reportedly, when he said that, his salary was $158,000 a year.
Despite the obvious fantasy world DeLay lives in, we might want to take his point more seriously. $158,000 is a lot of money, bit it's not that much money. Particularly not when you live in DC and your home district, when you fly back and forth constantly, and when all your friends are lobbyists and lawyers who live like kings. To put it another way, it's a Passat salary in a Beamer world.
Now don't get me wrong, $160,000 is plenty of cash, but considering the rarified realm of sycophants and rich kids inhabited by our congressmen, it's not all that surprising that they let themselves be bought dinners, be flown places, be done favors. Most of these guys are lawyers, doctors, businessmen -- folks with much higher earning power than $150,000 a year. In their minds, accepting a few gifts is probably a perfectly rational trade for operating much beneath their earning potential in order to advance the public good -- you know, allowing usury and launching wars and thinking Iraq's still got weapons and stuff -- a few gifts and junkets are the least the American voters can give them.
I'm not sure what, if anything, you do about that. Many of them would probably remain corrupt at $250,000 a year. But I have no problem with the idea that we should pay our government leaders handsomely. To some degree, that'd probably attract more and better talent to the positions. Right now, if you've got a moderately padded bank account, running for office is a massive cut in your lifestyle, and thus the lifestyle of your family. If you're massively wealthy, you can live off your savings, but if you were just making a lot, rather than a ton, you don't have that option. Hiking congressional pay would soften that tradeoff, and hopefully spur better people to run for office. As it is now, I think the idealists don't often survive their climb up the latter, so you're mostly left with the very rich and the very power-hungry. Maybe a few more bucks could shake that calculus a bit.
Update: Matt S. has a little challenge for Tom Delay...