Is it time for Congress to get back to work?

Even though Congress has done a partial about face and agreed to cut its recent luxury jet order by 60 percent, from $550 million to $220 million, many Americans believe Congressional benefits are too lavish.

Case in point: Congress' paid vacation time. Currently it's about eight weeks, with Congress in recess for almost the entire month of August. Washington, D.C. approximates Paris in August: there's nobody around.

The typical American's paid vacation time? About two weeks -- the lowest in the world among advanced, industrial democracies.
In Europe, the average is about four weeks paid vacation time. But there is one qualifier: in Europe, the law stipulates paid vacation time; in the United States there is no federal law guaranteeing minimum vacation time, although it is customary for large, U.S.-based, multinational corporations to offer new employees at least two weeks, progressing upward with tenure.

So, using the two-week norm, Congress has four times the paid vacation time of the typical American.

Is Congress' eight-week paid vacation plan excessive and an abuse of U.S. taxpayer dollars? Well, your view on that is likely to vary depending on how you view the work Congress does as a body. Note that the last qualifier was "as a body," and not "how your local representative or senator is performing." That's because even during times when Congress has a low public approval rating, voters historically rate their local Congressman higher than Congress as a whole.

Those Americans who believe Congress should be comprised of citizen legislators -- typical people who run for office and agree to serve only a short-stint before returning to private life -- usually believe Congressional pay and benefits, including paid vacation time, is lavish or too generous.

Conversely, those Americans view the work of Congress as requiring more time, energy, and sacrifices -- and who are not opposed to lawmakers serving multiple terms -- typically believe Congressional pay and benefits are about right or fair; some would even favor an increase in pay and benefits.

How do the people in Congress view themselves? Well, I'd like to say they view themselves as citizen legislators, but having worked on Capitol Hill and studied the political process, that is most certainly not the case. Most lawmakers, Republican and Democratic, view themselves as CEOs and their districts as mini-corporations.

And we know what CEO pay is like in these United States.

Financial Editor Joseph Lazzaro is writing a book on the U.S. presidency and the U.S. economy.
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