Contracting COVID-19 puts essential employees into the tragic position of having to either risk their health or financial stability, and neither the media nor their elected leaders seem to care about their stories. However, in the wake of the president and other politicians contracting the virus, the topic becomes inescapable. The double standard is obvious; 200,000 Americans have died, and yet sick politicians dominate news coverage despite so far avoiding any fatalities. This situation highlights a major issue in American political culture; we put our elected officials on pedestals. It is time that we knock down the old pedestals and create new ones for the American people, to whom our representatives owe their jobs.
Benefits are an important part of any job. According to Senate.gov, the pay of representatives and senators is $174,000 a year, but according to opensecrets.org, “more than half of those in Congress are millionaires.” The only representative from Maine that is worth under a million is Jared Golden. In contrast, the average American made $63,179 in 2018. Members of Congress are not only paid nearly triple the pay of the average American, they are given benefits and tax credits for their positions, including a $3,000 living allowance. The pay and benefits of elected officials put them in a position of perpetual economic prosperity and political power. Many Americans are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19. However, negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for a second stimulus package have stalled. Americans elected members of Congress because they believed they would represent their best interests, but the failure to pass a second stimulus displays both a lack of respect for their offices and their constituents.
Congress needs to be reformed. A nationwide referendum system should be established, and Maine’s state government represents a replicable example. The direct and democratic nature of referendums allows for the people to regulate Congress. Referenda would be necessary for reigning in the pay, benefits and privileges of Congress. It would not make sense for Congressional representatives to vote on their own compensation.
Another reform for reigning in congressional agency would be the creation of nationwide recall elections. According to Ballotpedia, recall elections enable “citizens can remove elected officials from office before their term is completed.” This would allow the population to act as a check on government power and encourage representatives to maintain fidelity to their constituents. The ultimate goal of these reforms would be to institute term limits for members of Congress. Term limits are a way to keep Congress full of newcomers with fresh ideas rather than with people that have been sitting in power for decades.
The United States government is supposed to be by the people and for the people. Our representatives have sadly lost memory of that. They were elected to be representatives of their constituents, not a representative for a party or themselves. The most powerful part of the government is the people, not the pantheon of larger than life politicians. These reforms would bring the people into the front and center of government, then force it to look out for our interests.