Keeping The Pork Barrel Full And Rolling Their Way
When it comes to understanding why Congresspersons and Senators will almost always vote the party line, just follow the money.
(In passing, I have nothing to say about the disgusting rabble who defaced Congress that has not been said. What is America’s way back from this?)
I have no doubt that there are many Congresspeople and Senators who are there for entirely altruistic reasons and who would be outraged at suggestions regarding the money they make, or need, but as it would be impossible get an honest answer from any of them other than, “I am here only to serve the people, etc.”, I will merely point out what the honey pot looks like. Or that pork barrel? Or both? My knowledge of American vernacular lets me down a bit here.
Even the most cursory examination of the modern era (at the very least from 1900 to the present) shows that there have been, and are, no more than a very small cohort of independent members of the Houses. In the Senate, Angus King and Bernie Sanders at present — and is Bernie really an indie?) which tends to be forgotten when the hoo-hah about Georgia was in full cry. If both of them could be counted on to vote with the Democrats, and with specific Biden/Kamala proposals, or bills from The House, then Georgia’s senators would not have mattered. But I suppose that the Democrats did not want to count on that.
By the way — although I have American friends who say this is not true, I am still left with the feeling that when asked about political leaning, most Americans will say “I am a Democrat” or “I am a Republican”. Democ-rats and Reptile-icans. Sorry. Could not resist that. Oh, and the implication behind the names of the two parties is this: the Republicans are not democrats and the Democrats are not properly republican. Mutual exclusivity at a very personal level.
Ninety-nine percent of those who strive for membership of Congress know that they will only get there if they ride the donkey or the elephant to the cash-pile, because the money and the on-ground support will only be there in sufficient quantity if they do.
Those few independents, that brave few, are swamped by those elected along party lines, and the parties number only two. The dominance of the Rep and Dom parties is, sadly and infuriatingly, a fixture in American politics unless and until a Movement for Political Independence can get started. And I don’t mean Kanye West, bless him.
Every member of the Congress is paid $174,000 per annum and pays tax on that. But beyond that salary, members of the House receive a $900,000 annual allowance for a staff as well as a $250,000 budget for travel and office expenses. All tax-free. And they fly free, everywhere. Each senator gets a budget close to $3.3 million based on figures from the Congressional Research Service. While some Congresspeople are rich enough not to have to depend on any of that, they are a small minority, so the salary plus allowances are well worth having and compares very favourably with the sort of total package which a middle-to-high-range executive might enjoy. Not to mention the pension benefits, where in 2002, the average congressional pension payment ranged from $41,000 to $55,000. As of November 2014, senior Members of Congress who have been in office for at least 32 years can earn about $139,000 a year (These are the latest figures I can find. The salaries have not changed but I anticipate that allowances have increased.)
But the motivation does not end there. House and Senate members are ideally placed to know where and how much federal money is up for grabs, and in a beautifully circular system, they do everything possible to move that money into federal projects in their home states (this is pork barrel politics as I understand it) thus making themselves look good with the voters, who will send them back to DC to keep that circle going. So, money, lots of money, greases the great wheels and gears of party-controlled Congress. But the party-political machine that needs greasing is very heavily dependent upon money for election campaigns being sucked into the coffers of the parties, much of it coming from corporate sources, especially, but not exclusively, in the case of the Republican Party. From the central party offices, to local election campaigns.
If a Congressperson steps out of the party line, they can kiss goodbye to all but the most minor financial support, and probably goodbye, too, to candidacy at the next election. Stepping out of line can be as simply done as repeatedly criticising the party leadership, or voting the “wrong” way. Principles? What principles?
Against that background, it really does not matter what their constituents get up to. Some of them are right there, trashing the Capitol in the name of elephantine Trumpist Republicanism? Say and do nothing because your seat is on the back of that bright red elephant, and the elephant is being led by a bigoted, racist, lunatic.
So, to understand the recent past, present and future of American politics, just follow the money. It is a given that all US elected office, certainly at federal level (possibly lower down the scale too) are up for sale to the highest spender. And the highest spender is the candidate who can throw the most money down the waiting maws of the media, notably TV. When Barack Obama was starting to think about running for the US Senate in Illinois, he was told “You need to raise $5 million just so you can start to get your message across. No point in having a great message if no-one hears it.” (from “The Promised Land, Vol. 1., by Barack Obama).
And that money could only be raised by waving the Democratic Party flag high and often. Simple: no money, no win. No party flag, no money.