As the debate over taxes raged, one compromise the Senate rejected would have
extended tax cuts for all Americans except those who are millionaires. In the
words of the bill's author, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, "Do we want
to extend those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires at a time of huge
deficits? I would argue vociferously we shouldn't."
But did you know that 261 members of the current Congress – nearly half
the House and Senate – are millionaires? Did you know that 58 of them have
assets worth over $10 million?
|When Senate Republican
leader Mitch McConnell states enthusiastically, "I
think it's pretty clear now that taxes are not going up on anybody in the middle
of this recession," including millionaires, perhaps it's worth noting that
McConnell's personal fortune is about $30 million.
When soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) describes as “chicken
crap” the notion of even talking about allowing Bush-era tax breaks for
the wealthiest Americans to expire, it may be relevant to point out that Boehner's
net worth is between $2 and $5 million. By Congressional standards Boehner is
a virtual pauper, listed as only the 87th richest member of the House.
These figures come from the legislators' own disclosures, as required by law,
and published by the Center for Responsive Politics. They don’t include
the value of the lawmakers’ homes or their government salaries, which for
members of Congress start at $174,000 a year.
According to the data, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is the wealthiest in Congress,
with a net worth of between $156 million and $451 million. The range is so wide
due to a quirk in the requirements that allows lawmakers to estimate certain
assets at both their lowest and highest likely value.
John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the most affluent member of the Senate. His assets, when
combined with those of his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry and her ketchup fortune, give
the couple about $239 million net worth.
It’s tempting to say that such enormous wealth among so many elected officials
makes them inclined to look more favorably on things that benefit the wealthy,
such as tax breaks for millionaires, although that’s not the case with
Kerry and many Democrats. On the other hand, it’s often argued that if
a politician is wealthy, he or she is less vulnerable to financial pressure from
powerful special interests.
Regardless, the personal wealth of Congressional members continues to expand
year after year, typically at rates well beyond inflation and any tax increases.
This is particularly vexing when you consider the nature of personal investments
lawmakers have in private industry. Just among banks, for example, 69 members
of Congress are investors in Bank of America, 45 in Wells Fargo, and 44 in J.
P. Morgan Chase.
Fundamental to all concerns is that extraordinary affluence among lawmakers distances
them from the average citizens they represent. This will be tested when the new
Congress convenes. The lame ducks will be replaced by a flock that, according
to financial disclosures, includes quite a few lucky ducks.
Most of the freshman are Republicans who campaigned as champions of Main Street,
yet the group includes many millionaires. Diane Black, for example, newly elected
in Tennessee, has combined assets with her husband worth upwards of $33 million.
Richard Berg from North Dakota lists assets above $20 million. According to an
analysis by The Politico newspaper, 25 percent of the newly-elected Republicans
in Congress are millionaires.
It would be quite a sight if every time a vote came up affecting the finances
of wealthy Americans, the millionaires on Capitol Hill had to recuse themselves.
Perhaps, as a more practical alternative, our richest lawmakers could at least
imagine on such occasions that they weren’t quite so fortunate.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.
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