The perks of being a member of Congress - Axios
Top Stories
Featured

The perks of being a member of Congress

The joint session of Congress during President Obama's 2016 State of the Union address. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Members of Congress are granted policies, benefits, and perks that grant them privileges denied in most other workplaces. In yesterday's lead item in Axios AM, Mike Allen touched on John Boehner's in-office smoking as an example — allowed, according to the N.Y. Times, thanks to Congress' supremacy over District of Columbia law.

Why it matters: With prior sexual misconduct on the Hill slowly coming to light, legislators are likely to face a reckoning from their constituents on the "old way" of doing things that allowed cultural rot and excess to be swept under the rug for so many years.

The pressure point: Taxpayer-paid settlements in sexual-harassment cases.

The perks:

  • Members get annual allowances (averaging $1.27 million in the House and $3.3 million in the Senate) to staff and manage their offices almost entirely as they see fit, as well as for travel and other expenses.
  • The House has averaged 138 legislative days each year since 2001, and the Senate 162. The job requires long days, and members are often active in their districts when not in session, but how many jobs give their employees over 6 months to plan and schedule entirely as they see fit?
  • While members of Congress are required to purchase insurance via an Affordable Care Act exchange, they receive a federal subsidy amounting to 72% of their premiums, per Snopes. (Democrats say it's a stand-in for the employer contribution most workers get.) They're also potentially eligible for lifetime health insurance
    under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program upon retirement.
  • Depending on age and length of service, members can receive a lifelong pension of 80% — which, given today's congressional salary of $174,000, equals out to $139,200 in annual taxpayer-funded retirement benefits, per Investopedia.
  • Upon the death of a member of Congress in office, their family will receive a payout equal to a year's salary ($174,000), per Congressional Institute. The one-time death gratuity for families of military personnel killed in action is $100,000.
  • Members of Congress have access to free, reserved parking spots at DC-area airports, a dedicated congressional call desk with major airlines and the ability to reserve seats on multiple flights but only pay for the flight boarded.
  • Our nation's legislators get a slew of lifetime benefits even after leaving office, including a taxpayer-funded gym at the Capitol, access to the House and Senate floors, parking in House lots, and the ability to dine in the House and Senate dining rooms, per The Washington Post.

Think about it: Lifetime access to an exclusive circle means you're likely to remain in that circle, further removing former members of Congress from the experiences of everyday Americans.

Featured

Ascension, Providence consider mega hospital merger

Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni is eyeing a large health system merger. Photo: Aijaz Rahi / AP

Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health are in discussions to merge, which would create the largest hospital system in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports citing people familiar with the merger talks. The combined system would have 191 hospitals, numerous clinics and roughly $45 billion in annual revenue.

Why it matters: Although the Ascension-Providence deal is not guaranteed, it shows how health care has turned into the Wild West for mega-mergers. CVS Health is buying Aetna, Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health are merging, and Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care are combining, among other deals. Yet, research shows mergers don't lower health care costs or improve care for patients.

Featured

Sneak Peek: Pence to the pyramids

Pence listens as Trump announces his Jerusalem move. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

With President Trump's announcement on Jerusalem lighting up the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence embarks Saturday on his first trip to Israel since taking national office.

The vice president will be gone for a week, with stops in Egypt and Germany:

  • Pence takes off from Washington, lands in Tel Aviv and goes straight to Jerusalem for a bilateral meeting with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Pence then will light a menorah at the Western Wall.
  • An aide said that Pence's message in Israel will be that Trump, as he said in his speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, is committed to working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Pence will use his meetings with leaders in the region to reaffirm the administration's commitment to work with partners throughout the Middle East and to "defeat radicalism."
  • On Monday, Pence will give the signature speech at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. The speech will be aimed at the region overall. Pence will emphasize that he is there on behalf of the president, and detail why Israel is a most cherished ally of the United States.
  • Pence will then fly to Cairo for a bilat with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The two will discuss security and joint efforts to fight ISIS.
  • Pence will visit the pyramids and will talk with media with the ancient wonders as a backdrop.
  • Pence will fly home through Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and will do a meet-and-greet with troops.

The takeaway: A key theme for Pence's remarks and interviews will be U.S. efforts to stop persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

Go deeper: Palestinians won't meet with Pence.

Featured

Exclusive: Policy official leaving White House

The White House South Portico is adorned with Christmas lights. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Paul Winfree is leaving the White House, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the decision. Winfree, who declined to comment, has resigned from his position as Deputy Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy.

  • Why this matters: Winfree's departure is part of what we've been forecasting will be a wave of White House staff departures after year one of the Trump presidency. His last day in the White House will be Friday.

Winfree, a respected policy wonk with strong ties to the conservative movement, is the second senior official to announce a departure in three days. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell told colleagues she's leaving to return to her family in New York.

What Winfree has been telling friends and colleagues:

  • He and his wife are expecting a second baby boy in a few weeks.
  • He'll return to the Heritage Foundation, where he will run economic policy.
  • He also plans to start his own policy consulting business. -
  • Starting in February, he will teach a seminar on policymaking at a top university, where he will draw on his experiences working in the White House, the U.S. Senate, and with think tanks.
Featured

NYPD adjusts interview techniques for sexual assault victims

New York police officers march. Photo: Andres Kudacki / AP

Amid a flood of sexual misconduct allegations — some of which have turned into police investigations — the New York Police Department has taken a new approach to questioning victims, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The bottom line: "The focus that’s occurring on sexual criminal conduct coming out of the Hollywood celebrities and members of Congress may be a watershed moment,” NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Osgood told the Journal. He says more sensitive and open-ended questioning techniques may lead to breakthroughs in cold cases that have been abandoned for years.

The backdrop: Police tactics in dealing with victims of sexual assault have long been controversial, with critics saying harsh questioning puts undue scrutiny on victims and pushes them to silence. These critcisms were thrown into the spotlight when ProPublica, in conjunction with the Marshall Project, published "An Unbelievable Story of Rape" — an investigative project which showed how a police department in Washington state coerced a woman into retracting a rape allegation.

NYPD detectives in the Special Victims division received training in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) techniques this year. The methods include asking victims of sexual assault open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about your experience," instead of specifics about the perpetrators appearance and the time and place of the incident.

How it works: Such specific details are "stored in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which shuts down during traumatic events. In FETI training, the detectives are instructed to ask broad questions that tap into a victim’s primitive brain, which maintains sensory information of those events. Channeling this part of the brain can result in a more substantial narrative," per Osgood.

Featured

White House: "Unfortunate" that Palestinians won't meet with Pence

Vice President Pence's office has called the decision by Palestinian officials not to meet with Pence on his visit to the region "unfortunate. The Palestinians are refusing to meet with Pence over President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The statement:

"The Vice President very much looks forward to traveling to the region to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President el-Sisi. It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan."
Featured

The mental health crisis among young Americans, by the numbers

Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

One in five American young adults under the age of 25 lives with a mental illness or behavioral disorder, NBC reports, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Per the CDC's research, the state of young adult mental health in the U.S. is only worsening, with the suicide rate among teenage girls reaching a 40-year high in 2015. Here's a look at the numbers that tell the story of this crisis.

The numbers:

  • 15 million, or 1 in 5, American children and young adults battle mental illnesses or learning disorders.
  • 10 million, or two-thirds of them, are undiagnosed or aren't receiving treatment.
  • Among children ages 3 to 17: 6.8% are diagnosed with ADHD, 3.0% suffer from anxiety, 2.1% suffer from depression
Featured

The case that bitcoin is a bubble

A man uses a Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. Photo: Kin Cheung / AP

The case against bitcoin, stated concisely by the Economist:

"It seems that every day, Bitcoin seems to hit a new high. But the reported price can move up and down by $1,000 or so within a few hours. This might have made it a great investment for those who got in at the right price and are nimble enough to get out in time. But it doesn't make it a useful means of exchange. When the price is rising fast, those who use bitcoin will be reluctant to part with it; when the price falls, those who sell goods will be reluctant to accept it."

Bitcoin as bubble: "This blogger remains convinced it is a bubble. Indeed its exponential rise only reinforces the argument. The beauty of bitcoin is that its intrinsic value is impossible to determine and that makes any value plausible to true believers. This is not the same as saying there is no merit in electronic currencies or blockchain technology; of course there is. But the range of prices which can be found on cryptocompare shows this is a narrow, illiquid market."

Go deeper: Read the whole article for an excellent Monty Python reference.

Featured

The state of racial inequality in 12 major U.S. cities

The March Against Racism in Boston Common in 1974. Photo: Frank C. Curtin / AP

A deep-dive into racial inequities from the Boston Globe's Spotlight team reveals the cities where gaps between white and black residents are closing and the cities where little has changed since the 1970s.

The big picture: A survey commissioned by the Globe found that 54% of African-Americans feel Boston isn't welcoming to people of color, the highest of the cities surveyed. That percentage is 34% for Chicago and 28% for New York. Atlanta fares best, at 16%.

Boston

  • 7% of residents are black; 73% are white
  • 54% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 4 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations meaning, per the Globe's analysis, "At least 15 percent of the residents are black; and among the black residents, at least 30 percent had a four-year college degree and their household income was at or above the median for their metro area."

New York

  • 16% of residents are black; 48% are white
  • 28% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 150 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Washington, D.C.

  • 25% of residents are black; 47% are white
  • 119 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Philadelphia

  • 20% of residents are black; 63% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 36 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Chicago

  • 17% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 33 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Atlanta

  • 33% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 16% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 110 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Dallas

  • 15% of residents are black; 49% are white
  • 50 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Houston

  • 17% of residents are black; 38% are white
  • 57 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Miami

  • 20% of residents are black, 33% are white
  • 24% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 38 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Los Angeles

  • 6% of residents are black; 31% are white
  • 24 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Charlotte

  • 35% of residents are black, 45% are white
  • 38% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color

San Francisco

  • 6% of residents are black, 54% are white
  • 34% of African-Americans believe the city is unwelcoming to people of color
  • 9 neighborhoods have visible black middle class populations

Go Deeper: The full piece from the Globe is well worth the click.

Featured

Nikki Haley: Trump's accusers deserve to be heard

Diverging from the White House line, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the women accusing President Trump of sexual harassment and assault "should be heard."

"I know that he was elected, but, women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them," she said. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has denied all of the dozen-plus claims and said Thursday that "the people of this country addressed" the allegations when they elected Trump.

Featured

Sen. Shelby says Alabama "deserves better" than Roy Moore

Shelby. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator, told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the Ethics Committee will have to investigate Roy Moore should he be elected on Tuesday, and the Senate will have to make a decision as to whether he's fit to serve.

Why it matters: As the NY Times' Jonathan Martin notes, "The most senior Ala R goes on nat’l TV to torpedo his would-be colleague!... Shelby has been in Cong for 40 years. He knew exactly what he was doing accepting this Sunday show invite."

  • "I'd rather see the Republican win, but I'd rather see a Republican write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore."
  • "There's a tipping point.... When it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me."