Congress returned to Washington this week for what will likely be a short session focused on doing as little as possible besides ensuring that government doesn't shut down when the federal fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Doing as little as possible has become a common theme for this Congress. Congress has failed to pass any of the 12 required appropriations bills necessary to keep government open for business. Lawmakers have also failed to pass a budget since 2009 and done little to meaningfully addressed entitlement reform or the debt.
Perhaps worst of all, Congress failed to make the spending cuts required by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- a.k.a. the Supercommittee -- before the deadline to prevent automatic cuts. (Those automatic spending cuts will also likely never take place if this do-nothing attitude continues into the next session.)
This lack of action has led many pundits to use words such as, "lazy," "pathetic" and "failed" to describe the gridlocked Congress. Perhaps not surprisingly, Congress' job approval ratings are reaching all-time lows. In poll conducted jointly by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal in August, only 12 percent of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing.
This failure and idleness by Congress, however, hasn't stopped senators and representatives from picking up their very hefty paychecks.
Despite doing next to nothing in recent months, United States senators and representative receive a salary of $174,000 per year -- a pay that puts members of Congress among the top 5 percent of wage earners in the United States. But that hefty income is only the beginning.
On top of their salary, Congressmen rake in another $111,000 per year worth of benefits. In total, congressional compensation tops $285,000 a year.
There's no question that congressional pay is out of line with what an average American worker brings home. Members of Congress make 3.4 times more than the average full-time annual American salary of $50,875, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A report co-authored by two free market policy organizations, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Our Generation, shows that U.S. congressmen bring in far more in salary and compensation than federal lawmakers in other nations, as well.
The study found that "legislators in other parts of the developed world receive salaries equal to 2.3 times the average wage of a full-time worker. By these standards, members of Congress are among the highest-paid legislators in the world."
By just falling more in line with international standards and cutting congressional salaries to $100,000 -- twice the annual pay of the average full-time employee in America -- taxpayers could save $39 million annually. Sure that may be a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of federal spending, but it's $39 million that taxpayers don't have to pull out of their own pockets. Further, it would be an important symbolic step for members of Congress to show their commitment to reducing the cost of government by first reducing their own salaries.
In this economy, where so many Americans are being asked to work harder for less, isn't it reasonable to ask Congress to make a less for doing so little? Members of Congress shouldn't view public service as a way of getting rich at the expense of taxpayers, but that exactly what many senators and representatives are doing.
Trimming congressional pay to a still-substantial $100,000 per year will save taxpayers money, put congressional pay a little more in line with reality and draw more statesmen and fewer self-serving money-grubbers into running for office.
Drew Johnson is the editor of the Free Press editorial page.