In these troubled economic times, Americans have finally awakened to realize that they are paying members of Congress an average of about $200,000 per year for their “public service” plus perks that allow them the possibility to turn that $200,000 into millions. Many are also just realizing that they don’t really have a lot of say in the matter since Congressmen and women have the power to set their own salaries, a right of which the rest of us can only dream!
Having heard discussions on this subject from the Post Office to the grocery store, I thought we might take a look at just how this came to be.* Of course, if you have done your homework and read the Constitution, you already know the answer, don’t you?
First of all, you have to understand that the Constitution as we know it did not just come to be with one writing. It was an unbelievably controversial document and one that was not easily ratified. As to salaries, however, the first draft contained a clause that allowed for “liberal compensation” for members of Congress. This compensation was to come from the state legislatures.
Of course, these words were so subjective that they scared Congressmen to death, and rightfully so, I suppose. If this were to be their J.O.B. they did need compensation and they did need to know just what that compensation would be. There is not one of us who would not have felt the same way.
There was also a fear of allowing the states to set their salaries. Who knew what they might decide a Congressman was worth, right? What if those who were the most qualified could not afford to serve? Who would we be left with to lead the country? You have to admit that at least on paper, these are very good arguments.
Of course there was much debate over this with some afraid that if they did not allow the states the right to choose the compensation paid to Congress, they would refuse to ratify the Constitution.
The story is too long to explain in this brief article; however, states controlling the salaries of Congressman did not make the cut, but, of course, there would be another draft.
In the next draft of the document, states were once again written in as controlling salaries. There was quite a bit of argument as to the fact that Congressmen might lose sight of the people they represented if they were not being paid by them. You think?? Eventually, the states would lose out in the vote; they would not have control of the salaries.
At first, the majority was adamantly against Congress having the ability to set its own pay, and when (I believe) James Wilson made the motion that Congress should be able to do just that, it was handily defeated.
The arguments went on and on with some horrified at giving Congress so much power. You have to remember the background of those who settled this county. They did NOT want to fall back into what they felt was the trap in the Mother Country.
The arguments were long and vehement, and yet, they did have a government to establish and a Constitution to ratify and, unfortunately, deals to make in order to accomplish this.
If you will do a little research, it will be very easy to find Article 1, Section 6, Clause 1 and what was written about Congress setting its own pay. To start with they paid themselves about what would equal a teacher’s pay today.
Unfortunately, they have decided that they cannot live on a teacher’s salary today!
*This article was written from memory of subjects I taught for years. As with any research, check my facts for yourself to be sure I’m on base!