In a year where the U.S. congress has a record-low approval rating, it is perhaps to no surprise to many that a majority of voters say congressional lawmakers should have their salaries cut, their pensions eliminated, and be required to spend more time on Capitol Hill, according to a new poll from The Hill.
The poll clearly reflects Americans' dissatisfaction with their elected leaders in a year where partisanship has ruled politics to the point that it nearly shut down the federal government over a budget dispute and pushed the U.S. toward the brink of a debt ceiling crisis. Voters clearly believe this kind of behavior is not benefiting them or the country in general -- 40 percent of respondents told The Hill they believe their personal finances will be worse in 2012, while another 40 percent expect them to stay the same.
The Hill's findings, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, were based off a nationwide poll of 1,000 likely voters on Dec. 1. Thirty-four percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, while another 34 percent said they were Democrats and 32 percent did not identify their political affiliation.
One thing is for sure -- Americans across the country believe the U.S. Congress need to have their salary and benefits reflect their disappointing job performance. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said the $174,000 base salary for Congress should be lowered, while 69 percent said congressional lawmakers' pensions should be discontinued and another 64 percent said they should be required to work more days each year.
Majorities in All Age Brackets Back Pay Cut
A majority of voters in every age bracket said members of Congress should have their salaries lowered and be required to work more, proving that a discontent with the political establishment is not limited to young voters and liberals. In fact, the youngest respondents -- those between the ages of 18 and 39 -- were more sympathetic with Congress when it came to the subject if their pensions. Only 59 percent of respondents in that range said Congress' pensions should be discontinued, compared to 76 percent between the ages of 40 and 64 and 73 percent of those over the age of 65.
Only 15 percent of respondents said Congress should keep both their 401(k) plans and pension.
Under the current pension system, congressmen over the age of 62 are eligible to receive pensions if they have served in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives for at least five years. They are also eligible to retire at 50 if they have served for at least 20 years.
Members of Congress have voted in favor of raising their salaries on 13 occasions since 1990, based on a cost-of-living adjustment that is calculated according to changes in private-sector wages and salaries, as measured by the Employee Cost Index. In May, President Obama signed a bill nixing Congress' automatic 2011 pay raise of $1,600, the second consecutive year that lawmakers have voted against receiving that automatic pay boost.
Americans are likely in favor of their elected officials taking a pay cut in a time of widespread economic hardship since a majority of congressman have sources of income outside of congress. According to a recent analysis by OpenSecrets.org of 2010 financial disclosure forms compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, 183 members of the House and 67 members of the Senate have a midpoint net worth of at least $1 million.
The analysis concluded that Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif. is the wealthiest member of the 112th Congress with an average estimated net worth of $448 million. Issa is followed by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex., whose average net worth stood at $380 million, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. ($232 million), Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., ($193 million) and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., (174 million.)
Kerry, the analysis notes, owes a sizable amount of his net worth to the assets of his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Voters Frustrated by D.C.'s Gridlock
Voters are likely frustrated since Congress, on multiple occasions, has been deadlocked on -- and eventually rejected -- initiatives that most of their constituents clearly support. According to a November Reuters/Ipsos poll, Americans blame lawmakers from both parties, as well as President Obama, for the congressional super committee's inability to reach an agreement on the federal debt ceiling. A CNN/ORC poll conducted a week before the panel's Nov. 23 deadline found that 78 percent of respondents predicted it was unlikely the committee would develop a plan to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit by its deadline.
While polls from Gallup and NBC News/The Wall Street Journal determined more Americans supported rather than opposed the American Jobs Act -- which would have instituted a small tax increase on the highest earners and eliminate certain tax deductions for corporations to fund job creation programs for small businesses, teachers, first responders, as well as creating public works projects to repair the nation's public schools -- it stalled in the Senate in October. Another wide-reaching job creation bill has not gained significant traction in the House or Senate; 72 percent of respondents in an October CBS News/New York Times poll said they were not confident that Republicans and Democrats in Congress could agree on a comprehensive jobs package.
One thing is for sure -- if Americans are as unsatisfied as they claim to be, many members of Congress should be concerned about their jobs next November. Only 13 percent of adults approve of Congress' job performance, according to Gallup, which reports the 2011 average is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in the organizations history. In late October, the CBS News/New York Times reported Congress' approval rating dipped below a dismal 9 percent -- lower than the general public's approval of former President Nixon during the Watergate scandal (29 percent), BP in the aftermath of the oil spill (16 percent) and the U.S.converting into a Communist state, according to a chart compiled by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.