President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Do members of Congress make ‘a lot of money’?

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) surprised many this week when he announced he’ll retire at the end of the year. The news spurred quite a bit of conversation – about congressional retirements, the disappearance of Republican moderates, Democratic pick-up opportunities in the 2014 midterms – but it was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party that raised eyebrows most (thanks to reader M.E. for the tip).
Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason told the Philadelphia Daily News that Gerlach would likely find a job as a K Street lobbyist after serving 12 years in Congress.
“It’s a tough job,” Gleason told the Daily News, referring to Congress. “You don’t make a lot of money.”
It’s a subjective question, but rank-and-file members of Congress make $174,000 a year, plus benefits. The median household income in the United States is about $51,000 a year.
This comes up with surprising frequency. Last year, for example, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) complained that lobbyists make big bucks while he’s “stuck” on Capitol Hill with his paltry salary.
In 2011, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) complained about driving “a used minivan” and how much he “struggles” to pay his bills, despite his large congressional salary. The same year, then-Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) of Montana assured his constituents he can relate to their economic difficulties, arguing he and his family “are struggling like everyone else.” Rehberg had a net worth at the time of about $56 million.
The larger context makes matters worse. While these Republicans suggest an annual salary of $174,000 isn’t “a lot of money,” they’re also recommending cuts to unemployment benefits, cuts to food stamps, cuts to affordable health care, and leaving the minimum wage where it is.
While Democrats embrace economic populism with increasing enthusiasm, it appears the GOP is countering with anti-populism?

Economic Inequality and Pennsylvania

Do members of Congress make 'a lot of money'?