During Rick Wagoner's tenure as CEO of General Motors from 2000 until his White House-orchestrated departure over the weekend, GM's stock lost 95 percent of its value. The company's last profitable year was 2004. Its cumulative losses since then total $82 billion nothing compared to an Obama deficit, but not exactly chump change.
Wagoner's estimated compensation last year was almost $15 million. Under the terms of the initial GM bailout approved in December, he had agreed to a salary of only $1 this year. Now he's getting a presidential wingtip in the rear.
Say what you will about the desirability of the commander in chief making personnel decisions for semi-socialized businesses. At least the president is trying to hold some institutions and individuals on the government dole accountable.
But can you think of any other institution that continuously drains the public treasury despite dismal public approval? Can you think of a group of leaders whose compensation is completely unrelated to performance, that routinely receives pay increases while consistently failing to perform their jobs? I'll give you 535 guesses.
The current economic crisis began with failed congressional oversight of the banking, investment and government-sponsored mortgage industries. The country is in recession. Unemployment is up. The deficit and the national debt are ballooning to record levels.
In the spirit of shared sacrifice, what is Congress giving up? Nothing.
Not pork barrel spending in the so-called $787 billion stimulus package. Not wasteful earmarks in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill. And not, evidently, automatic pay increases.
Under a two-decade old system, members of Congress receive an automatic cost of living adjustment, irrespective of what's happening beyond the Capitol's dome. In 2009, lawmakers will have $4,700 added to their paychecks, lifting their salaries to $174,000.
In the real world, you have to excel to receive a raise. In Congress, you don't need to do anything. In fact in Congress, you have to work diligently to repeal the automatic pay raise racket, as Sens. David Vitter R-La., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have tried consistently to do.
Last month, finally, they were successful in passing a measure in the Senate that would end stealth salary increases and require lawmakers to take affirmative action to raise their pay. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership team opposes any change to the system of congressional payroll optimization.
When corporate executives redecorate their offices, it's called an affront to taxpayers. But when members of Congress try to spend $200 million to refurbish the National Mall, they call it a stimulus.
When Bernie Madoff bilks investors out of $65 billion, it's called the financial crime of the century. But when Social Security and Medicare face projected shortfalls in the trillions of dollars and Congress refuses to reform the payroll tax Ponzi scheme, it's called protecting seniors.
When AIG executives receive contractually obligated bonuses, it's an outrage. But when the members of Congress who are responsible for that outrage want to keep their annual pay raises on autopilot, they call it as Nancy Pelosi did tradition.
Wagoner, Madoff, the whole AIG crew sure, off with their heads, Mr. President. But spare a little outrage, too, for the people leading the populist mob in Congress, some of whom should have their necks in the guillotine as well.
Clarification: A Congressional Budget Office report referenced in last week's column said the deficits from the Obama budget, not only from its spending proposals, exceed those anticipated by the White House by $2.3 trillion over 10 years