It's time we Americans started treating our Senators for what they really are instead of the holier than thou, sanctimonious elite characters they portray themselves to be. But what should we do with them? Believe me, I have my own ideas. Unfortunately, they are not easily expressed in a G-rated tome, especially after this government shut-down fiasco, but I am trying to find the humor in this recent bout with the budget versus the 'Dreamers.'
Let's start with some Senate facts: there are 100 Senators, two from each state, irrespective of the size of the state. Each serves a six-year term and gets a $174,000/year salary. They also get a sizable sum of money for personnel and for their office expenses - in DC and in their home state. Their allowances range from $2.5 million to $4.5 million/year and vary by the size of the state population and the distance their state is from Washington, DC. When good old Senator Harry Reid was Majority Leader he was costing the taxpayers a cool $4.5 million. I suspect that Mitch McConnell is right up there with ole Searchlight, Nevada Harry.
Here in New Mexico, our two Senators: Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D) are clocking in with about $2.7 million each in costs while the two most expensive Senators are Kamala Harris (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D) at just over $4 million each. There are lots of perks that go with the job as one might imagine: free or low-cost medical care through the 'Office of the Attending Physician' and free outpatient care at military facilities in the DC area, a 'Gold Level' healthcare plan with Federal subsidies that covers about 72 percent of the premiums, membership in the Senate gym and on and on. The bottom line is that Senators make more money than 97 percent of all American wage-earners.
For all of that generosity, one could reasonably expect a work product that equals the cost, but that's seldom the case. According to the latest poll I read issued by a respectable polling company, the general public's satisfaction with their Congressional Representatives is at about 20 percent. A whopping 75 percent disapprove of the way Congress (including the Senate) is handling its job. Looking at the irresponsible way Senate Democrats shut down the federal government, only to re-boot it 72 hours later, it's easy to understand why Americans view these jokers as a bunch of uber-partisan numbskulls.
What's a person to do? I have a few ideas. First, we need to impose term limits. Twelve years or two terms ought to be enough time for them to feather their own nests for life after the Senate in cushy K Street lobby digs or as 'wise men' in DC think tanks. Currently, there are six Senators who have served over 30 years in the job; eight of them are over the age of 80. Seventeen of them are in their 70s.
Next, we ought to consider renaming that august body something more fitting like, "Fantasy Island," for instance. Instead of allowing them to grandstand and bloviate ad nauseam from the Senate floor we should make them compete with each other, suited up like contestants on "American Gladiator." Granted, this would give the advantage to younger, more physically fit Senators, but the older ones could hire surrogates to compete for them. We need to be fair, after all.
There are many other changes that might make Senators more conscious of avoiding harebrained statements, personal attacks on the opposition or shutting down the entire government. For example, whenever they are interviewed by television reporters, they should be required to wear a sign around their necks emblazoned with their three most bone-headed statements. We all need to be reminded of just how off-the-wall some of these folks are, especially before we re-elect them.
Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat and now political analyst and author. He has written eight books and over 750 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org