Archive for congress

Collective Net Worth of Congress Increased $390 Million from 2008 to 2012

Underreported… I’ll say. At the end of 2012, the editors of Time Magazine posted their picks for most overlooked news of the year, and I think the fourth-most underreported story deserves far more attention than it initially received.

According to Roll Call, the collective net worth of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives rose to $2.04 billion in 2012, up from $1.65 billion in 2008—an increase that averages out to nearly three quarters of a million dollars per congress member. Read the full story below, then share your thoughts.

From Roll Call

And Congress’ Rich Get Richer
Net Worth of Lawmakers Up 25 Percent in Two Years, Analysis Demonstrates

By Paul Singer and Jennifer Yachnin
Nov. 1, 2011, Midnight

Members of Congress such as Rep. Michael McCaul reported major increases in their net worth, and Congress’ collective net worth also increased. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, a nearly 25 percent increase over the 2008 total, according to a Roll Call analysis of Members’ financial disclosure forms.

Nearly 90 percent of that increase is concentrated in the 50 richest Members of Congress.

Two years ago, Roll Call found that the minimum net worth of House Members was slightly more than $1 billion; Senators had a combined minimum worth of $651 million for a Congressional total of $1.65 billion. Roll Call calculates minimum net worth by adding the minimum values of all reported assets and subtracting the minimum values of all reported liabilities.

According to financial disclosure forms filed by Members of Congress this year, the minimum net worth in the House has jumped to $1.26 billion, and Senate net worth has climbed to at least $784 million, for a Congressional total of $2.04 billion.

These wealth totals vastly underestimate the actual net worth of Members of Congress because they are based on an accounting system that does not include homes and other non-income-generating property, which is likely to tally hundreds of millions of uncounted dollars. In addition, Roll Call’s tally is based on the minimum values of assets reported by Members on their annual financial disclosure forms; the true values of those assets may be much higher.

While wealth overall is scattered fairly evenly between the two parties, there is an interesting divide in the two chambers. Democrats hold about 80 percent of the wealth in the Senate; Republicans control about 78 percent of the wealth in the House.

And as protesters around the country decry the supposed consolidation of wealth in America, the trend can be seen starkly in Congress, a comparison suggested by American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Mark Perry. The 50 richest Members of Congress accounted for 78 percent of the net worth in the institution in 2008 ($1.29 billion of the $1.65 billion total); by 2010 the share of the 50 richest had risen to 80 percent ($1.63 billion of the $2.04 billion total). The pie of Congressional wealth got bigger, and the richest Members are getting a bigger slice.

But there is still plenty to go around. Overall, 219 Members of Congress reported having assets worth more than $1 million last year; subtracting the minimum value of their liabilities brings the total number of millionaires in Congress down to 196 — again not counting any value on their homes or other non-income-producing property. If one were to assume that every Member of Congress has $200,000 worth of equity in real estate, the total number of millionaires would rise to 220 Members, just more than 40 percent of the Congress.

As with the general U.S. population, a few exceedingly wealthy people skew the averages for the rest of the membership. But still, by almost any measure, the average Member of Congress is far wealthier than the average U.S. household.

For example, dividing the total wealth of Congress by the number of Members creates a mean (average) net worth for each Member of about $3.8 million (excluding non-income-producing property such as personal residences). By comparison, for the rest of the country, based on statistics released by the Federal Reserve, average household net worth is around $500,000 this year (including personal residences), according to David Rosnick, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

But a handful of Members of Congress are worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars — the richest Member of Congress this year, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), is worth a minimum of $294 million, meaning that McCaul’s own wealth has the effect of raising the average of every Member of Congress by about $500,000.

So a better number for comparison is the median, the number where half the group is above and half the group is below. For Congress, the median net worth in 2010 was about $513,000. For regular households, the Federal Reserve Board pegged that number at about $120,000 in 2008, and that number this year is probably around $100,000, Rosnick said.

While it is hard to make an exact comparison between Congress and the rest of the nation, what is clear is lawmakers “are all a lot richer than anything you would call a typical American,” Rosnick said.

And Congress appears to be getting richer faster than the rest of the nation. Citing Federal Reserve data, Rosnick said, “From the end of 2008 to end of 2010, aggregate household worth increased
12 percent.” That is about half the increase Congress achieved during the same time period.

The cautionary note in any Congressional wealth analysis is that significant changes in apparent wealth of Members do not necessarily represent an actual change in net worth.

For example, Rep. Darrell Issa reported this year that his 2010 assets were worth at least $295 million, nearly double what they were the year before. The reason for the change appears to be in part because the California Republican moved some properties from a single account into separate accounts. An account that Issa had listed as having a minimum value of $50 million in 2009 dropped to a minimum value of $25 million in 2010, but he added 11 accounts with a minimum combined value of $38.2 million. Even if none of the actual account (or property) values increased, the minimum value of those assets on paper rises by $13.2 million, or more than 25 percent.

Alan Ziobrowski, a professor of real estate at Georgia State University, has produced studies of Congressional investment patterns indicating that lawmakers in both chambers tend to fare better in their investment portfolios than the average American, in part because “[t]here is no doubt in my mind that they are trading in some way on information that is there.”

But he also points out that the Membership of Congress has turned over since 2008, making it difficult to compare wealth over time. “You’ve got different people,” he said.

In the aftermath of the 2010 elections that swept Republicans to power, about 20 percent of the Members included in the 2010 survey were not included in the 2008 survey.

ICYMI: NOW with Alex Wagner on December 26th

It appears that Republicans are suffering from political amnesia as the year-end deadline for Congress to reach a budget agreement approaches. Instead of relying on knee-jerk ideology, we must make an honest assessment of our economic history and current predicaments. Do current economic policies serve the interests of our citizens and promote the nation’s well-being? Are these policies faithful to our political ideals?

On Wednesday, I joined Ari Melber, Jonathan Chait, Joy-Ann Reid, Nick Confessore, and John Harwood on NOW with Alex Wagner to discuss budget negotiations in Congress, gun control, and Chuck Hagel’s Secretary of Defense nomination. Watch the videos below for highlights from our discussion and share your thoughts.

From NOW w/ Alex Wagner

Where were we before Boehner’s Plan B?
The NOW panel – including New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, the Grio’s Joy-Ann Reid, the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, CNBC’s John Harwood and author Catherine Crier – discusses the latest in the fiscal cliff proceedings.

Gun regulation: One step forward, many steps back
Will new concern about gun control after the Sandy Hook massacre spur legislators into action, or will people’s concern dwindle with the media’s coverage? Nicholas Confessore, Joy-Ann Reid, Jonathan Chait, and Catherine Crier discuss the NRA’s agenda and whether or not they’ve artificially frozen the debate on gun control.

 

Cabinet caution: Does Chuck Hagel stand a chance?
By opposing George W. Bush’s 2007 Iraq surge, former Senator Chuck Hagel endeared himself to anti-war Democrats but lost a lot of Republican support. Now Hagel, potentially President Obama’s pick for the next Secretary of Defense, is getting flak from Republicans and even some Democrats for his views on Israel, Iran, and his previous comments on gay rights.

NOW’s Best Moments of 2012
From angry attack muffins to fetching holiday sweaters and how to get your “wag’ on, a look back at the year at NOW.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Guns reduce and restrict liberty; they do not ensure our way of life.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the national security implications of corporate influence on government, democracy, and civil society. He echoed Lincoln’s warnings in his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

The following New York Times op-ed written by Firmin Debrabander is right on the money. Guns reduce and restrict liberty; they do not ensure our way of life.

From The New York Times

Read more

Change in Filibuster Rules May Spur Partisan Battle in Congress

Benjamin Franklin’s concern about the function of the Senate, it’s accountability, and the nature of its influence is more important today than when he raised the issue during the Constitutional Convention. More than one-half the nation’s population lives in just ten states, but they have only one-fifth of the votes in the Senate. This means that 12 percent of the U.S. population controls forty-one votes and can immobilize that chamber.

Given the transient character of the population and the changing nature of individual states, it is hard to justify this imbalance. Rules of the Senate, such as the filibuster must be reformed to encourage open debate and actual votes on the nation’s business.

From Politico

Read more

Exchanging Our Mammoth Defense Industry for a Smaller, Cheaper, Stronger Military

Throughout President Obama’s first term, he kept Bush’s military leaders in charge of our defense and instituted a surge in Afghanistan. He also took out more terrorists in his first year than Bush did in his entire second term and is progressing on reducing nuclear weapons—one of Reagan’s most fervent wishes, and yet, daily he is proclaimed a socialist or worse.

Our global military presences requires both a powerful federal government and a mammoth defense industry. When big defense companies become indispensable, we should not be surprised at their political clout. What do you think of President Obama’s plan to reduce our huge industrial and military machinery of defense in exchange for a smaller, cheaper, stronger military?

For the Army, the Obama plan would reduce active-duty troops from 562,000 to 490,000. Photo illustration by 731: Photographs by Shaigan/AFP/Getty Images (missiles); Vahid Reza Alaei/AP Photo (smoke); Ron Sachs/Getty Images (Obama)

From Bloomberg Businessweek

Read more

Littoral Combat Ship (LCS): Another Military Boondoggle, Waste of Taxpayer Money

On the heels of the Pentagon’s trillion-dollar commitment to the overrated, over budget, and under performing F-35 comes the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a seven-year investment, now triple original cost estimates, that has negligible value to the Navy.

The LCS is fast on its way to joining the F-35, giant spy blimps, and the Medium Extended Air Defense System—another military-industrial boondoggle, wasting taxpayer money year after year.

The Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is not only staggeringly overpriced and chronically unreliable but — even if it were to work perfectly — cannot match the combat power of similar sized foreign warships costing only a fraction as much. Let’s take a deep dive and try to figure out why.

From Time

Read more

DHS Fusion Center Network: An Unwieldy, Bloated, and Unaccountable Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

A new Senate report on the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion center network exposes the federal behemoth for what it really is: an unwieldy, bloated, and unaccountable waste of taxpayer dollars that has encouraged the militarization of domestic law enforcement for nearly a decade.

Thanks to former President George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress, programs such as these “have become pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions,” according to the report. When questionable tactics used in the legitimate pursuit of terrorism become a tool in “regular” criminal investigations, the rights of all American citizens are seriously jeopardized. What do you think?

In July 2009, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano called the fusion centers “a critical part of our nation's homeland security capabilities.”  About 70 of the centers now exist, located in major cities and nearly all states.

From The Center for Public Integrity

Read more

Public Money Continues to Supplement the Building of Private Corporate Infrastructure

Our nation is still experiencing the after-effects of major economic crisis, and yet public money continues to supplement the building of private corporate infrastructure. Time and time again, our legislators and government officials have proven that they’re willing to put the interests of the public aside in order to appease big business by lowering tax rates, offering more tax breaks, and increasing corporate subsidies.

These government subsidies do not encourage economic growth as much as productive taxpayers do, and as a result, everything from Social Security to unemployment and welfare rolls is affected. As you’ll see in the following article, when it comes to competitive business privileges—tax breaks, subsidies, overt political power—individuals and small businesses might as well fugetaboutit.

Welfare queens may actually look more like giant corporations.

From The Huffington Post

Read more

Modern “Conservatives” Are Quick to Impede Progress Without Offering a Different Course

The Republican Party I knew growing up was brimming with “progressive” visionaries who valued national investment in science technology and infrastructure—building, innovating, and investing, publicly and privately, in America’s future. Now, modern “conservatives” are quick to put the brakes on progress without offering a different course.

If they wish to revitalize the Republican Party, conservatives must be willing to strike a balance between free-market ideologies and traditional conservative principles. Balancing these interests does not mean confiscating and redistributing wealth or subsidizing people’s lives, but inequalities must be addressed. Your thoughts?

"In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism." David Brooks | New York Times

From The New York Times

Read more

96 Percent of Americans Have Relied on Social Welfare Programs

In a 2008 national survey conducted at Cornell, 96 percent of Americans reported needing the assistance of federal social welfare programs at some point in their life. However, many government officials, especially Republican leaders, regularly insist upon deep cuts to services for most citizens while simultaneously defending tax breaks, subsidies, and overt political power for transnational corporations.

In its preamble, the Founders stated explicitly that our Constitution was established to promote the general welfare. Americans recognize the difference between ideological rhetoric and realistic solutions, and what they’re seeking is honest leadership that puts the welfare of citizens and our system of government above all else. Would you agree?

From The New York Times

Read more

Switch to our mobile site