1. Opinion

Ruth: Paid so much to do so little in Congress

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Published Sep. 7, 2016

Tanned, rested and ready after almost two months on vacation, Congress returned to WORK!!!! Tuesday to commence a brief but brutal schedule of activity that will involve great impassioned speeches, purposeful striding back and forth across the Capitol rotunda and, of course, an unrelenting pace of schmoozing for bribes, er, make that campaign donations.

Oh, the Parris Island Spartan-like rigor of it all. So many canapes. So little time.

And what will actually be accomplished? In theory the congressional campers in the House and Senate have basically two things to accomplish. First, approve a budget bill to keep the foremost military and economic power on the face of the planet smoothly functioning. And second, pass a $1.1 billion package to combat the growing threat of the Zika virus.

How hard should this be? Well, this is Washington, after all, populated by the Bowery Boys of the Beltway.

By the time the House adjourns on Sept. 30 and the Senate a few days later, it's entirely possible the government will only be funded until the end of the year and Zika will be still be regarded by our elected representatives as a case of the sniffles. Public health? So boring. You better believe if Zika was breaking out in epidemic proportions in House Speaker Paul Ryan's Wisconsin district, or was running rampant across Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky, the federal money to combat the disease would be gushing like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But this is Washington, where reality goes to die.

Consider the returning Congress has 19 days to do just two things. That's it. Nineteen days to cast two votes. And yet since we all know past performance is indicative of future results, this Congress will likely be about as productive as a Chia Pet.

There are far more important things preoccupying the Congress of the United States. Like getting re-elected on a platform of goldbricking.

But get elected, or re-elected, for what?

The Federal Election Commission has reported that as of this month, $746,450,585 has been raised by Republican and Democratic Party incumbents and challengers for House races. Over on the U.S. Senate side, some $436,935,734 has been received in campaign donations.

And we haven't even gotten to the special interest money. You might want to sit down for this one. According to the OpenSecrets website, as of Sept. 6, there were some 148 super PAC groups armed with $551,153,830 in political slush fund receipts to promote various candidacies. Now there's an American Bald Eagle moment for you.

And what does the public get for all that cash in political baksheesh? Well, it gets 535 members of Congress who will make $174,000 a year to show up for only 111 days in the House and about 118 days in the Senate to do pretty much next to nothing except posture and preen and prostitute themselves for money.

Across the campaign trail, candidates from both parties are claiming they will fight, fight, fight for this and fight, fight, fight for that. Who knew a three-day-a-week work schedule covering about three and a half months a year — which includes roughly eight and a half months of annual vacation time in which precious little gets done beyond being ready for duty to deliver sound bites on Fox News, CNN or MSNBC — constituted mortal combat?

Your would think for all that money, those brawlers in Congress could figure out a way to pass two funding measures in the course of 19 days. This isn't as if the denizens of Washington are being asked to actually go fight terrorists, or minister to Zika-infected mothers, or do any heavy lifting beyond stuffing an envelope into their pocket.

Imagine in your particular walk of life if you were being paid $174,000 annually to clock in for only three months a year and all you had to do was sit a cushy chair and vote on two things over the course of 19 days before heading off on yet another vacation, and you still struggled to complete this simple task.

Is it any wonder why voters hold such a dim view of Congress?

This really isn't a deliberative legislative body. It's a Monastery of Money that has taken a vow of obsequiousness.

And we ask so very little of Congress. Can you simply do the job you were elected to perform? Too much?

Alas, this is still Washington, where a work ethic is an acquired, bitter taste.