WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: (L to R) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak to reporters about meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama over the deficit debate at the U.S. Capitol on April 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama is scheduled to make a major budget address this afternoon. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

The most recent amendment to our US Constitution deals with pay raise’s for congress and took effect on this date in 1992.

The 27th Amendment, “… prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives.”

What this means is that a current congress can’t just raise its pay by a vote of current congressional members. The raise will take effect following the next election so some people would not necessarily be re-elected and benefit from the increase. In other words they are not feathering their own nest while still sitting in it.

Is Congress Underpaid?

The rank and file senators and House members are currently making $174,000 annually. That’s been the figure since 2009. That’s about 3-4 times what the average American receives for his or her daily labors.

However, adjusting for inflation, congressional pay should be closer to $219,000 if you believe a Congressional Research Service Report. Congressional paychecks buy less today than they did in the 1990s.

And They Claim To Need Money More Because?

According to job approval polls most Americans think our leaders are grossly overpaid. They only work, on average, about 109 days a year. That works out to about $1,600 dollars per day. But is that the whole story?

Congressional members have to maintain a Washington residence in addition to their home state residence. They are buying or renting housing in one of the most expensive real estate areas in the country.

Every second year law firm associate is making the same or more than they are. Competition for space is fierce. As a result many lawmakers actually live in their Washington offices. Some have hide-a-bed sofas and laundry basket file cabinets.

Can Non-Millionaires Run For Office?

For the first time in history more than half of congress are legitimate millionaires. In the future there may come a time, if it’s not here already, that only the rich can afford to serve in government because the pay for an average person is too low to live on in Washington, DC.

Our legislators do have a lot of perks like postage to correspond with constituents, an office, staff, assistants, travel office, etc. But the cost of living in and around Washington can deplete even a hefty paycheck pretty quickly.

Some Final Thoughts

It’s very hard to hold much sympathy for someone making three to four times what you’re expected to live on. We often see the extravagances of government officials. When we read about political junkets to foreign resort areas on someone else’s dime we think of our own struggles just to go camping for a weekend.

We don’t know which expenses are “out of pocket” and which are taxpayer funded. The cost of all presidential vacations comes under close scrutiny by political watchdog groups.

President Harry Truman called the Republican lead 80th congress, the “do nothing congress.” Many would argue that our current one has done even less. In the eyes of the general public there is a big difference between getting your pay and earning your pay.

I’m sure congress feels they are acting in your best interests and earning every penny they make. Sometimes it’s just really hard for us to see.