Boom Years for CongressDecember 27, 2011 - by Donny Shaw
Between 1984 and 2009, the average net worth of American families has decreased by about .7 percent. But for the folks in Washington that we elect year after year to make laws for us and spend our money, these past few decades haven’t been so bad. Over the same time period that average Americans experienced a slight decrease in their net worth, members of Congress, on average, have enjoyed a increase in their worth of about 159 percent.
It’s cliché to say, but Congress is clearly out of touch with most Americans. The enormous gap between the lived experience of members of Congress and the lived experience of the rest of us comes across clearly in their policy-making decisions. Rather than working honestly on creating jobs for those who have been hit by the recession, the only things Congress can agree on are policies that are supported by and favor large corporations. The major bills that have passed so far this session or are about to pass – the free trade deals, patent law reform, and internet censorship powers (SOPA/PIPA) – are all focused on protecting big, politically-connected business interests. They’re not about creating jobs, even though that is how they’ve been marketed to the public.
It’s not that Congress doesn’t care about the rest of us, it’s that they honestly do not understand us and the struggles we face. In this post-Citizens United era of unlimited, money-driven political speech, Congress is hearing almost exclusively from an elite group of highly ideological corporate executive, lobbyists and lawyers. According to a report from the Sunlight Foundation, nearly 25 percent of all money spent on elections last year can from the top .01 percent of the population. In fact, the top .01 percent spent more money on political campaigns in 2010, on average, than the average American earned in income. The U.S. Congress has clearly become an institution by and for the 1 percent, and that’s not going to change until the rest of us can overcome our personal divisions and join together in a fundamental fight to reform the political economy of the U.S.