In nationwide polls, Congress regularly scores lower on the criterion of public trust than the president and the Supreme Court. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that Congress is the least trusted branch of the federal government. With one of the least trusted presidents to ever serve sitting in the Oval Office, this is quite an indictment. So why is Congress as an institution so mistrusted by the American public? As it turns out, there are plenty of good reasons. I summarize just of few of the more prominent reasons in this article.
One reason Americans do not trust Congress is that they cannot relate to its members, roughly half of whom are millionaires or multi-millionaires. Hence, Americans who work for a living can be excused for thinking it is no coincidence that the federal tax code is riddled with loopholes that benefit the wealthy. Is it any wonder the flat tax never gains any traction in Congress? Can millionaires and multi-millionaires really understand the needs of working class people and small businesses? Americans do not trust people who run for office to serve themselves.
Another reason for the lack of trust in Congress is that its members appear to benefit from inside information in the stock market, knowing an incredibly high percentage of the time exactly what to buy or sell and when. For example, during the height of the great recession in 2008-09 members of Congress as a whole posted a 16 percent gain in the stock market. This occurred at a time when elderly Americans were seeing their retirement investments dwindle to nothing. Enjoying a success rate in stock trading which exceeds that of even the most talented or even lucky investors might explain so many middle-income people who are elected to Congress become millionaires while serving.
Another reason Americans do not trust Congress is that they are able to give themselves raises and other benefits by simply enacting the necessary legislation. At a time when many Americans cannot even find a job, it is discouraging to know that Congress can simply decide to give itself a raise that working Americans must then pay for. Members of Congress also enjoy retirement and medical perquisites that—although not as lucrative as some Americans believe—do represent a much better benefits package than most Americans have or will ever have.
Members of Congress may receive a retirement pension after serving only five years in office, while most Americans struggle for 30 or more years to gain a pension. Unlike most working Americans, members of Congress are required to contribute only 1.3 percent of their salaries to the pension system whereas percentages of six and seven percent are common for those in the private sector. Members of Congress can begin collecting their full pensions at 62, provided they have served five or more years, and at 50 if they have completed 20 or more years. While members of Congress are in office, the government contributes an amount equal to one percent of their salary to a 401(k) plan. Congressmen are not required to contribute anything, but are allowed to if they care to. A lot of Americans would love to have such a deal.
Many Americans believe that members of Congress receive free healthcare for life. They don’t, but they do have a much better and less expensive plan with many more options than most working Americans. Congressmen are part of the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, but with a twist. For just $503 annually, members of Congress can receive routine medical care from the Office of the Attending Physician whose offices are conveniently located right in the Capitol. Most Americans pay more than this each month for healthcare services. Until Congress is subject to the same rules, laws, conditions, and benefits as working Americans, the American people will not trust Congress. And who can blame us?