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At $5 billion yearly, the public may wonder: Is Congress worth the cost?

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In 2010, the cost to support a Congress of 535 people was budgeted at almost $5 billion (up nearly 6 percent from the previous year, and likely up more this year). More and more, taxpayers are wondering if it’s worth the cost to support a group that seems less and less able to solve problems, work together, and take care of business.

So, OK, we all know that used car salespeople and lobbyists have always been at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of how the public views professions.

In last December’s annual Gallup Poll, sure enough, used car salespersons were ranked second from the bottom in perceived honesty and ethics. Lobbyists came in dead last.

But, guess which group was third from bottom — those ranked down there with the dregs of public disfavor?

You probably didn’t have to think hard about that one: Congress.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled had a very low or low opinion of the honorables, 32 percent only average, and a piddly 9 percent high/very high.

Geez, even we wretched newspaper folk ranked six notches higher, at 22 percent very high/high (but one percentage point behind TV reporters — go figure).

In a more recent CNN poll, only 14 percent of respondents approved of how Congress has been doing its job.

It would be interesting to conduct a poll of the public’s opinion of Congress after those being polled had been briefed beforehand as to how much money they and other taxpayers spend each year to support their chosen representatives and senators, their staffs, their numerous facilities, the Capitol police, visitor centers, travel, meals, health care, retirement, and on and on and on.

In 2010, the cost to support a Congress of 535 people was budgeted at almost $5 billion (up nearly 6 percent from the previous year, and likely up more this year).

Given that members of Congress spend more and more time figuring ways to enhance their images and in raising money to perpetuate themselves in office, one might find it difficult not to wonder if it’s worth the cost to support a group that seems less and less able to solve problems, work together, and take care of business.

Now, it seems it’s more about which party can be the most obstructionist, or which ideologies can be the most hyped, or who can best play the game of brinksmanship.

David Walker, CEO of the Comeback America Initiative and a former Comptroller of the U.S., said at a University of Arizona town hall forum earlier this year that “the last 10 years have been the most fiscally irresponsible years in the history of the U.S., with spending completely out of control — and both parties are to blame for it. Every day, we’re spending $4 billion more than we take in.”

If the government just prints more money, Walker said, “You’re devaluing the currency. That creates pressures for inflation over time, and with inflation, arguably the cruelest tax of all, you can’t manage, can’t make decisions.”

A tax-and-spend fiscal policy and a too loose monetary policy need to be brought under control “if we want to fight inflation and be able to fight the U.S. debt crisis,” he said.

“The American people “are a lot smarter than their elected officials give them credit for,” Walker said. “They get it — they understand that both parties are responsible.”

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, participating in the same forum, said that just eliminating waste in federal government, as many suggest, would be “nowhere near enough to plug the deficit hole we’re going to face in the future … and we can’t possibly hope to grow our way out of it or cover the cost just by trimming some waste.”

In a recent NPR interview, Bixby said: “There is a broad, bipartisan agreement that a lot of the things that would make the budget look a lot better aren’t going to happen … If Congress just went home, the budget would be in a lot better shape ... If they’d make no further decisions, the budget would be in pretty good shape by the end of the decade.”

We could only wish…

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