You might say that what Congress does or doesn't do isn't really a consumer issue. Ah, but think again; to put it in the crudest possible terms, we are all consumers of government services and every few years we get a chance to decide which group of candidates we want to employ to manage those services for us.
If you look at it that way, we didn't get much for our money the last year or two -- not much legislation was passed and the entire enterprise was shut down for 16 days through the failure of our employees to manage it properly.
Given that rather dismal record, it may be irksome to learn that for the first time in the history of our fair land, most members of Congress are millionaires, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 -- an increase from the previous year when it was $966,000.
Last year only 257 members, or about 48 percent of lawmakers, had a median net worth of at least $1 million.
It's not so much that Representatives and Senators are getting rich on their annual salaries of $174,000 but rather that they were rich when they got there. After all, it takes a lot of money to run for Congress.
So it's not surprising that Members of Congress have for a long time been far wealthier than the typical American, but the fact that now a majority of members -- just a hair over 50 percent -- are millionaires represents what CRP called "a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code."
"Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there's been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center. "Of course, it's undeniable that in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with."
Champions of the poor
Well, but at least the Democrats -- champions of the downtrodden -- come from humbler roots, you say? Not really. The latest figures find that congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million, both up from last year.
Republicans are actually the party of economic diversity, at least relatively speaking, taking both the top and bottom steps on the ladder.
The poorest member of Congress in 2012, at least on paper, was Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) -- who reported an average net worth of negative $12.1 million in 2012, thanks to huge debts incurred by his family dairy farm.
The richest member of Congress was, once again, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Issa, who made his fortune in the car alarm business, had an average net worth of $464 million in 2012.
So next time you're feeling bad about the state of the nation, you may perhaps find comfort in the fact that least your Congresspersons aren't suffering unduly.