General Question

iamthemob's avatar

What are some ways we could tie federal legislative pay to performance?

Asked by iamthemob (17147points) February 1st, 2011

Executive pay legislation has attempted, and often failed, to balance executive conflicts of interests by tying their pay to certain performance metrics of the corporations they lead.

The main drawback of big government, however, is that pay is guaranteed, regardless of performance. And connections, regardless of performance, increase the perceived value of exiting legislators when re-entering the private industry. So, there is a perverse incentive against risk, innovation, etc., and towards mediocrity and “consensus maintenance.”

In what ways can we attempt, barring Constitutional restrictions at this time, to attempt to tie legislative pay to performance? What metrics should be used to judge this? And what unintended consequences would need to be controlled for?

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15 Answers

woodcutter's avatar

I don’t think any of them are there for the money really. They all seem to be doing alright before they got the gig. It’s the power they’re after. We get to vote them out if they don’t deliver is what I thought the incentive was.

SavoirFaire's avatar

As a very basic measure, perhaps there could be no pay increases for representatives, senators, or their staff members in years without a balanced budget (or whatever measure on which we choose to focus). Furthermore, there could be mandatory payment decreases for said people after a certain number of consecutive years without a balanced budget (or, again, progress on some other measure). I include staff members because an elected politician has a lot to lose if he cannot hold onto the unelected politicians keeping him in power.

As @woodcutter says, they aren’t really there for the money. But a salary decrease is embarrassing and potentially harmful to one’s continued viability in the office (as it is an easy thing for an opponent to campaign on given its cause). It also just keeps us from wasting quite so much money on ineffective legislators, even if it doesn’t make them more effective.

iamthemob's avatar

@woodcutter – Good point, and I don’t think you’re far off in many cases.

However, regardless of their motivations, if they don’t care if they get paid less for doing mediocre work, that’s fine – it means that we pay less, barring all other factors, to support them.

@SavoirFaire – That’s a proposal I see in state legislatures.

What about requiring that a representative’s constituency approve any pay increase prior to its implementation?

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob I agree with @woodcutter. Power, ideaology, status and getting re-elected. But even if “we” devised a plan, “we” can’t pass it except through Congress. The GOP had a contract with America in the 1990s and the Tea Party has one now.

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – The similarity between the two eras hasn’t been lost on many.

There’s another element in that at the time, political discourse and rhetoric was especially inflammatory, as it is now, leading up quickly to the Oklahoma City Bombing. Clinton’s approval ratings skyrocketed as he less-than-subtly suggested that Republican vitriol had inspired a culture of violent reactionaries.

This may have been what spurred much of the Democratic reaction to the Arizona shootings – which, of course, backfired horrifically. But Republicans don’t seem to have learned the lesson in their response, and many are advocating maintaining the rhetoric at its present tone, and in fact kicking it up a notch to claim that to tone it down is to “let the shooter [terrorists] win.”

I know that reasoned discourse is perceived as an evil tool of the liberal intellectual elite – but I think that if Republican’s are really interested in returning to true conservatism, I fear the rhetoric is just setting them up.

And that rhetoric is part of the issue as I see it – there is a lot of talk and not a lot of do. Government disclosure lacks clarity. I believe that performance-based metrics tied to pay might increase representatives to disclose what they’ve done more clearly.

Wouldn’t perceived power and influence, also, be subject to a correction of sorts if representatives had pay cuts for failing to achieve? If they are viewed publicly and sanctioned clearly as “do nothings,” that’s a hit to power and status, at least.

PS – I don’t think it could ever be done, but technically the states do have a mechanism to do this – an amendment to the Constitution

crisw's avatar

The problem here would be developing any standard of “legislative performance” that did not favor any particular political ideology. In addition, I don’t think the pay is incentive enough; you don’t get ultra-rich being a Congressman; it’s the jobs and gigs before and after that do that.

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob I actually saw that Neil Cavuto interview. I love Cavuto. I don’t think the Arizona shooting had anything to do with political rhetoric – on either side. It think it is revolting when people use tragedies to play politics and even worse when the media does this. I hope you aren’t asserting a connection between the rhetoric and the tragedy in Arizona. I agree with Mike Lee. I think that HuffPo and Christiane Amapour played on the rhetoric and created rhetoric in a shameless, unethical and illogical way in that snippet.

“I know that reasoned discourse is perceived as an evil tool of the liberal intellectual elite.” LOL You are funny.

I think perceived power and influence are subjected to correction by public sanctioned “do nothings” anyway to an extent. Mostly when the media does their job. But it amazes me how so many of the voters don’t care. Take some of the town hall meetings and the video broadcasts that made their rounds of disrespect and rudeness on the part of the candidates and elected officials. It really saddens and amazes me at the same time.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703667904576071913818696964.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

zenvelo's avatar

but my idea of good performance of my democratic congressman is to prevent the efforts of the tea party and right wing republicans from imposing their Ayn Rand economic and Levitical Christian agenda.

@iamthemob , voters do “approve” raises for Congress because they don’t take effect until the next term.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw – I that pay isn’t the attraction so much as the cache and the value of that when transitioning to the private market. But pay has some impact, would be used as a clear level of efficacy when trying to move in the private market, and also, just generally, would reduce costs to the taxpayer.

The link of payment to performance is not necessarily valuable only as a way to inspire more and better action, but also to pay the legislatures what they’re really worth – rather than just what they get.

@bkcunningham – I don’t think it did either. I’m saying that the Democrats responsive rhetoric was woefully inappropriate, and the Republican response in its vindication is dismissing an objectively reasonable concern about rhetoric. Lee’s reaction is, essentially, “Ha ha see! I’m going to be as inflammatory as I want to because you can’t shut me up!” It neglects that rhetoric didn’t cause this, and is blamed unfairly on all sides – but that doesn’t mean that it’s valuable at all, and it’s certainly not rhetoric that was vindicated in this case.

And let’s not even talk about the media. It’s like a megaphone for rhetoric. When has the media done its job?

I think that’s why pay-for-performance metrics of some sort, closely tied to the metrics, may add clarity amidst the noise. These don’t even need to be about successes. Consider something like earmark or pork penalties, how much unnecessary legislation is proposed in times of crisis – some objectively measurable acts.

@zenvelo – That’s not really an approval, though. That’s more of a safety mechanism to prevent Congress from giving themselves raises in the term they’re elected. The fact that the XXVIIth Amendment is the most recent one to pass shows that there may be a real concern for Congressional concerns about their pay.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@iamthemob I like the idea of a referendum on all pay increases for legislators (and their staff members).

@bkcunningham Lee’s statement—or the statement at issue, at least, since he has made others—is this: “The shooter wins if we, who’ve been elected, change what we do just because of what he did.” Surely, this is pure rhetoric. Taken as a principle, it would mean not increasing or in any way changing our security procedures after the September 11th attacks, for instance, since that would be changing what we do because of what Osama bin Laden et al. did. One could certainly present that view, but I see no reason to take it seriously.

iamthemob's avatar

Considering that the only way to determine success may be to tie some pay to future events, what about the concepts of deferred comp or clawbacks as part of the solution?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@iamthemob Sounds fine to me.

Yeah, I know. I’m not particularly full of ideas on this one.

zenvelo's avatar

In California there has been a lot of thinking about docking the pay of the legislature for not passing a budget on time, but there hasn’t been a way to get it approved. But other than deadlines like that, I think the problem gets down to lack of consensus on what “Congress getting stuff done” means.

There are many people on the right who think that things would be better if Congress only convened for a few weeks/months each year, while many of us think the last congress actually accomplished quite a bit of good work. And this reminds me of peoples opinions about term limits and congress in general. They want term limits for everybody else’s representative, but not for their own, because their guy is “good” and does a good job of representing the district.

That’s why so many Congressmen get rehired every two years.

ETpro's avatar

You could pay lawmakers for each vote they cast to enact a bill that becomes law—which I think would be an absolutely terrible idea, as we have too many confusing and contradictory laws already.

Or you could pay lawmakers for pay lawmakers for each vote they cast that ends up removing an existing law from the books—which I think would be a terrible idea, as every time we have deregulated a formerly regulated activity, the move has blown up in our faces.

iamthemob's avatar

What if the pay was shifted to the states?

E.g., there is a minimum base pay increased with a COLA adjustment covered by the federal government, but any increase above that is up to the states to approve for each legislator?

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