Since the Republican Party feels that "entitlements" in this country need to be cut further, going so far as to oppose extending unemployment benefits and voting against health care for children while millions of Americans are losing their jobs, incomes and any benefits they may have had, I can’t imagine that they would be opposed to cutting or limiting some of the entitlements that the members of Congress receive. These cuts would also help with the federal budget deficit since we, the taxpayers, provide these benefits through our hard earned tax dollars.

As the members of Congress do not have any fear of being laid off (until the next election), they are guaranteed their salary, which for 2009 is $174,000 for the rank and file. The majority and minority leaders of both the House and Senate pull in $193,400 and the Speaker of the House tops out at $223,500. Pretty swell, huh? Especially when the average household (all members of the household)income in this country is about $56,000. Even better is the fact that many members of the Senate (or the millionaires boy’s club) are independently wealthy and many other members of Congress have family money or spouses who also enjoy a huge payday.

So most members household income is far and away higher than the average American citizen. Yet despite their high incomes we know that these people we elect to look out for us, their constituents, can understand what we outside of DC have been going through as our high paying jobs have been outsourced to other countries, as our health insurance companies (if we are among the lucky to have health insurance) are paying their employees bonuses to deny coverage, as we get sick from salmonella and e-coli in our food supply,as we are drowning in arbitrary fees from our banks while they are paying out bonuses that are more than we can earn in our lifetimes, right?

So members of Congress, especially Republicans, would certainly understand the need for entitlement reform to start at home…their home. I’m sure they know that they should be participating in the types of cuts we are seeing in the wider economy, they are leaders after all. Where to start? I, for one, would continue to allow the money for their staff and for the mailings to us, their constituents. I would also keep in the free parking at Reagan airport, as part of their job is to fly home to their districts. Considering their salaries though, maybe the subsidized meals in the Congressional dining room could be unsubsidized. After all, they really don’t need food stamps.

Uh, my job doesn’t allot me 10 free haircuts per year at a private barbershop, so maybe they could find their own hairdressers. I bet the Republicans could get a group rate as their hair style seems to be standard across the party. Staying in shape is important, but free gym memberships (and one gym each for Congressmen and Senators – I guess they can’t mingle) at their rate of pay seems excessive. Perhaps they could kick in and help defray the cost. Free life insurance? Not something the majority of us gets, but at the executive level it is fairly common, so I guess we can leave that in. Free income tax preparation. Okay, a fairly picky point, but we don’t get it and they can afford it, so scratch that. Free fresh flowers from the National Botanical Gardens.

Okay, we can leave that in to decorate their offices and we are already paying for them anyway. Pensions after 5 years of service, adjusted for inflation. Well, most states are fighting to get rid of the COLAs associated with government pensions, so maybe in solidarity to the average citizen the members of Congress could do so as well. Now I know it is expensive to operate a vehicle, but a $10,000 per year car allowance (plus driver) seems a little excessive, especially in an area with great public transit. If nothing else, we could make them drive themselves, although this puts the drivers out of work creating a conundrum.

Considering that the Republicans wanted to cut funds for Amtrak and other public transportation out of the stimulus package after having underfunded them for years, maybe it is time to let them get the experience of public transportation. Last, but certainly not least, free health care. Yes care, not insurance. The members of Congress have no incentive to make things better for us in the rest of the country because they feel no pain. President Obama, please consider a co-pay for health care for the members of Congress, as well as a 10% pay cut and get rid of the COLA on their pensions. Once they experience the least of what is happening to the rest of us, maybe they will start paying attention to the health and welfare of their constituents and not just themselves.

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