There is a third party in Congress: millionaires


The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that, for the first time in history, a majority of the members of Congress during the last session were millionaires:

Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 — an increase from the previous year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate.

The 268 millionaires compare with 278 Republicans and 254 Democrats currently sitting in Congress. There is little difference in wealth between the two official parties, with Democrats having a median net worth of $1.04 million and Republicans having a median of almost exactly $1 million. This means that there really is a potential third force that can break through the legislative logjam caused by partisanship in Congress. Send the Millionaire Caucus on a retreat to Aruba and let them hammer out budget compromises! (The Non-Millionaire Caucus can meet in Newark to try the same, but let’s face it: The majority rules.)

Passing the majority millionaire milestone is largely symbolic. I assume that inflation bumps a few members into the seven-digit club every year, and the CRP is vague on how they factor this into their data. (Of course, Congress doesn’t factor inflation into setting the minimum wage, but that’s another matter.) The 2014 report is a headline grabber, but the CRP says that the wealthy have long been overrepresented in Congress:

About 1 percent of all Americans are millionaires. In Congress, that number regularly hovers between 40 percent and 50 percent, meaning elected leaders generally need not worry about the economic pressures many Americans face — from securing gainful employment to grappling with keeping a family financially afloat.

Indeed, wealthy people in public office have become so commonplace that you really need an opponent who’s a multibillionaire, like Michael Bloomberg, to run as a plucky, underfinanced candidate. (The CRP estimates that the wealthiest member of Congress, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has a net worth between $330 million and $598 million.) I live in Rep. Katherine Clark’s district and had no idea she was a millionaire until today, but millionaires are a dime a dozen in the Massachusetts delegation.

Does the concentration of wealth among the people’s, ah, representatives have implications for lawmaking? ThinkProgress’s Alan Pyke argues in the affirmative:

The past few years have offered some stark demonstrations of the consequences of a legislature dominated by the rich. The clearest of these may be sequestration cuts. Congress retained the cuts that savagedprograms for the poor and working class, but it leaped into action to spare business travelers from long airport lines caused by the cuts.

So far, I can’t find reaction to the report on more conservative-leaning sites such as the National Review and the Weekly Standard, but always-thorough Reason magazine has an item headlined “The People’s Work Is Profitable,” tying the new data to the strong economy in the nation’s capital. I’m pretty sure, though, that more millionaires are sent to Congress than are created there.

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