Growing gap between lawmakers, ordinary Americans


As middle class Americans get poorer, members of Congress are getting richer, according to analysis of the latest financial reports from members of Congress.

The income gap between members of Congress and their constituents has doubled since the 1980s. And it's not because of the salary members of Congress are paid.

In the past six years middle class America's net worth has dropped 8 percent while the members of Congress got 15 percent richer on average, according to the New York Times analysis of the latest congressional reporting data.

At the yacht club in Tiburon, Richard Payne says the numbers show Congress is out of touch.

"The direction we're heading is the wrong direction, totally to be socialistic and I don't happen to agree with that," Payne said.

At a Richmond gas station, Andy Isetta says it's actually just the opposite.

"I think they're accumulating more wealth to the wealthy," Isetta said.

So how you view the income disparity depends on your point of view, but the income gap doesn't really have much to do with the $174,000 that members of Congress are paid.

"The truth is members of Congress have not really had, in real terms, a pay raise since the 1950s," UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy Dean Henry Brady said.

The Goldman School of Public Policy has just completed a book on the wealth divide and its impact on democracy.

Brady says look at who's running for Congress: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. has $448 million -- he's the richest member, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has over $100 million and she's barely in the Top 10. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 14th with $69 million.

More people who made a lot of money or married a lot of money are running for office, but they're not doing it for the $174,000 a year paycheck.

"We've got a Congress that's composed of well off people and that's, I think, the biggest problem here," Brady said.

When it costs so much and takes so much time to run for Congress, says Brady, it's more and more something only the rich can afford.

"We'd like to have it be a job, at least I'd like to have it be a job, where folks who are not that well off would say, 'This is a good job, I can make real money here and it's worth me running for it,'" he said.

Brady says democracy would be better served if more people could afford to run for Congress. But when Pelosi endorsed a congressional pay freeze just few weeks ago, Long Beach Rep. Laura Richardson angrily told the leader that some members needed the cost of living raise.

Did Pelosi vote against the pay raise because she's so wealthy she doesn't need the money? Hardly. Congress's approval rating is at a historic low and giving themselves a pay raise would be a tone deaf move in this climate.

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