Friday, February 18, 2005

How to get paid for being a slacker

I'm not at work today. If I kept this up for more than a week, I suspect my employer would stop paying me. Wouldn't it be great if I was a member of Congress? Then, like John Kerry, I could skip almost 150 days of work and still get paid.

The National Taxpayer's Union reminds us that this is illegal, but no one enforces it.

According to a study released today by the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), an obscure federal statute still on the books requires Congressional absentees to forfeit their pay unless they or a family member are ill; but leaders have failed to enforce the law while rank-and-file lawmakers seem reluctant to voluntarily comply.

. . .

According to 2 U.S. Code 39, “The Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives, respectively, shall deduct from the monthly payments (or other periodic payments authorized by law) of each Member or Delegate the amount of his salary for each day that he has been absent from the Senate or House, respectively, unless such Member or Delegate assigns as the reason for such absence the sickness of himself or of some member of his family.” Under 2 U.S. Code 48, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House are responsible for certifying the salary accounts of their respective chambers, and so must make an inquiry into whether Section 39 deductions are in order.

The NTU press release lists some of the chief offenders.

  • The chronically absent list is filled with Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, including John Kerry (D-MA), John Edwards (D-NC), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Richard Gephardt (D-MO), and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). But House Members bidding for Senate seats were also prominent on the list, including Brad Carson (D-OK), Mac Collins (R-GA), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Pete Deutsch (D-FL), Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chris John (D-LA), Denise Majette (D-GA), George Nethercutt (R-WA), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

  • From January 2003 to the October 2004 recess, John Kerry missed 146 days of votes without being granted leave. Total salary overpayment: $90,932.68. His running mate, John Edwards, compiled 102 days of unexcused absences during that period, for an overpayment of $63,543.16. Both Senators missed every vote during the months of July, September, and October.

  • On the House side, Dick Gephardt’s failed bid for the Presidency cost taxpayers $81,362.53 in excessive pay. Gephardt was absent for 85 of the 109 days the House cast votes in the year 2003 alone. Combined with 2004, Gephardt had the highest unexcused absence rate in the House, at 131 days – still short of Kerry’s record total.

  • Then-Rep. Jim DeMint’s successful 2004 bid for South Carolina’s Senate seat could help to explain some or all of his 37 unexcused absences, and an apparent $23,305.56 salary overpayment. In 2003, now Kentucky Governor and former Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) missed 27 session days, for a total salary overpayment of $16,640.91. Three Georgia lawmakers who were locked in tight contests – Collins, Isakson, and Majette – racked up 55 days of unexcused absences and $34,643.40 of potentially illegal salary among them during 2004.

Now, I can hear the arguments that many of these members of Congress, John Kerry and John Edwards in particular, were campaigning, and therefore couldn't be expected to be present for every vote.

Even if you're doing a great job in Washington and have never missed a vote, you still need to campaign in order to keep serving your constituents.

But what if you're campaigning for a position other than the one your currently hold? Should that count? Aren't you essentially saying that you no longer wish to hold your current job?

Should I expect my employer to keep me on if I was publicly searching for a new job? Isn't that what John Kerry was doing? Some states require you to resign your office if you plan to seek a new elected office. Some do not -- which is why John Kerry remains in the Senate today and John Edwards does not.

Perhaps we need a law at the federal level that requires anyone seeking an office other than the one currently held to resign immediately. That way we taxpayers wouldn't be paying Senator Slacker for flying around the country making a few stump speeches between wind-surfing and snowboarding excursions. Instead we'd actually have someone in Washington doing some work. (I know that's a difficult concept.)


At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good info. Good post. Do you have any info about Senators with good attendance records?

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