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U.S. Congress increasingly controlled by the super-rich

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 27th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Members of the U.S. Congress have grown increasingly wealthy, making the divide between the rich and the desperately poor in our nation all the more calamitous. According to Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times, congressional leaders have become the one percent that the Occupy Wall Street protesters have denounced as holding all the nation's riches and power. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Largely insulated from the country's economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress - many of them among the 'one percenters' denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters - have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years," Lichtblau writes.

Lichtblau goes on to cite statistics on analysis from The New York Times, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which is a nonprofit research group.

Historically, the U.S. Congress has never been a place for the poor. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich - "but rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent.

 "But with the American public feeling all this economic pain, people just resent it more," Alan J. Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State who studied lawmakers' stock investments says.

The costs of political campaigning may discourage the less affluent from even considering a candidacy. Loose ethics controls, shrewd stock picks, profitable land deals, favorable tax laws, inheritances and even marriages to wealthy spouses are all reasons for the rising fortunes on Capitol Hill.

In addition, the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent from 2004 to 2010, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat. For all Americans, median net worth dropped 8 percent during that period.

At least 10 members, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and former auto alarm magnate who is now worth somewhere between $195 million and $700 million.

Issa has since faced outside scrutiny because of the overlap of his Congressional work and outside interests, including extensive investments with Wall Street firms like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, as well as land holdings in his San Diego district.

In another example of an abuse by the well-heeled, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, set off an uproar last year when it was disclosed that he had docked his $7 million, 76-foot yacht not in his home state but in neighboring Rhode Island, which has no sales or use tax on pleasure boats.

Seeing this wide overlay of wealth, the New York Times contacted the offices of the 534 current members an informal survey, asking if they had close friends or family members who had lost jobs or homes since the 2008 downturn - and only 18 members responded.

"Half the respondents said they had close friends or relatives who lost homes, while the other half said their personal contact were limited to constituents who came for help.

"Two-thirds said they had close friends or relatives who had been laid off or had shut down a business during the downturn. The rest knew no one in that category personally," Lichtblau writes.

California Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat who took part in the survey says that several cousins she considers brothers and sisters lost their jobs recently. Without college degrees, none have found work, and they have emphasized to her the importance of unemployment benefits.

"Personal stories are very powerful because it's not a theory," Eshoo said. "It's not talking points of a party. These are people experiencing the harshness of what is an economic depression for them." Multimillionaires in Congress "view life through a different lens," she said.

Perhaps we as Americans are so focused on other countries political corruption, maybe we should focus on our own. If our own politicians are not corrupt with facts like above -- then what is?

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