One-Percenter of the Week: The Senate's median net worth is $2.63 million. The House's is $756,000.
Just a few days into the new year, and we're already blitzed with wall-to-wall election coverage. But the fun is only just beginning. Before this election year is out, scores of congressional candidates will join the presidential contenders already dominating the airwaves.
If you observe their endless debates and expensive attack ads and get a sense that these candidates are out of touch with many of the pedestrian problems faced by the rest of us -- oh, say like trying to balance a family budget -- it's not just your imagination.
While most Americans saw their incomes and wealth slip in the past several years, the wealth of our reps in Washington, D.C., has grown by leaps and bounds. The key takeaway here: Being a millionaire would make any normal person a One-Percenter, a member of the nation’s wealthiest group. In Congress, it just makes you average.
So rather than a CEO this week -- we’ll get back to them – I’m making Congress my One-Percenter of the Week.
Consider these numbers:
"It's no surprise that so many people grumble about lawmakers being out of touch," said Sheila Krumholz, CRP executive director. And it's not only the news of their costly yachts and expensive vacations that rankles.
It's also the sense that our One-Percenter reps in Washington aren't doing enough to help the rest of us, perhaps because they are so distracted by their embarrassingly rancorous bipartisan arguing -- which has earned them their most unfavorable ratings in years.
Bickering over the budget last summer, for example, brought the threat of a U.S. credit rating downgrade, helping to shave billions off our stock holdings in just a few painful weeks.
A recent Congressional Budget Office study found that public policy efforts -- in the tax code and through programs like Medicaid -- now do less to combat income inequality than they did in 1979.
And three years after the worst financial meltdown in decades -- which many blame on lax oversight of the financial sector by Washington -- our economy is improving, but not fast enough to provide jobs for the millions who are unemployed.
It’s not hard, either, to suggest a little bias toward the One Percent, and a bipartisan one. For all the talk about rescinding the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to the highest income brackets, they survived two years with a Democratic president and Democratic majority in both houses of Congress as well as the current, divided Congress. And late in 2011, House Republicans took lots of criticism for stalling on a 2% payroll tax that by its nature helped those in the lower brackets more than the One Percent.
So who's richest in Congress?
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., tops the CRP list as the wealthiest of the lot, with an estimated 2010 net worth of $448 million. He's followed by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, with an estimated net worth of $380 million. (For a look at a list from Roll Call and CNBC, read "The 15 richest members of Congress.")
Just how did these reps get so wealthy? Probably not on the $174,000 they make a year, despite the juicy perks like extra pay for senior posts and generous medical and pension benefits. Most likely, they're so much richer than the rest of us simply because campaigning is expensive, so politics naturally attracts wealthy people. Many of them made their riches in real estate, or they got their wealth through inheritances and marriage.
But shrewd stock picking also clearly help. Studies by Alan Ziobrowski at Georgia State University conclude that our reps regularly outperform the markets by large amounts due to the “significant information advantage” they derive from their jobs.
Our reps may actually be a lot wealthier than the numbers provided by CRP suggest, since so much of their wealth goes unreported. The top bracket for assets of spouses is "more than $1 million," which means that family net worth is likely undervalued in many cases. Plus their annual filings exclude the value of government retirement accounts, primary residences and personal property not held for investment -- like artwork and cars.