Isn't the new Congress exciting! Weren't the lawmakers adorable raising their hands to be sworn in! Isn't America filled with hope and great expectations! What? We're not? According to CNN, 37 percent of us are convinced Republican control of the Senate and the House will bring fresh air into the overheated Washington atmosphere. Alas, 47 percent of our grumpier cohorts are gloomier than ever, predicting another year of bipartisan bickering, bumptious behavior and bourbonless summitry between the GOP leaders and the White House.
In the spirit of getting to know our political leaders, here are a few interesting tidbits you may throw around at your next cocktail party or PTA meeting.
For only the second year in history, half of our lawmakers in Washington are millionaires. Not surprisingly, this is far more than the national average, although not as much as you might think. The Boston Consulting Group, which certainly knows wealth when they see it, says that one of every 16 U.S. households is now worth at least a million dollars.
Furthermore, the BCG forecasts that the assets held by all segments above $1 million is projected to grow by at least 7.7 percent per year through 2018.
That is somewhat depressing to me. I feel I am not doing my part. But at least we can be proud that the members of Congress are pulling their weight. (But here's something even more disconcerting: The United States has 4,754 households that are worth more than $100 million each.)
Another fact is that members of Congress are 66 times more likely than average Americans to be lawyers. And for the Senate Democrats, the figure is 112 times, according to the American Bar Association. That great publication The Economist reflected that "this may explain why America has so many laws, and why some are longer than War and Peace." (The Economist may have exaggerated a little. One of our longest laws, Obamacare, has 381,517 words while the Oxford World Classics' edition of War and Peace has 561,093 words. However, the regulations that go with Obamacare total about 11,588,500 words, give or take a few.) While you may be hearing about the new generation of politicians, this Congress is older than the nation in general. Twenty-five percent are 65 or older compared with 14 percent of Americans. Fifty-three percent of the new members are 50 or older.
More women are coming to Washington, but it's not a lot. The new Congress is 1.6 times as likely to be male as Americans in general; 18 percent of the new members are women.
But more women are breaking into Republican ranks. Republican women in Congress now number 28, up from 23. And they are more diverse. Utah has its first African-American female Republican in Congress, Mia Love, a Mormon who nonetheless ran off to Connecticut for her college education. New York Republican Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She is 30. (Harvard, naturally.) Fourteen of the 74 brand new members of Congress have Ivy League degrees, but only one new member, Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, got into Congress in part by boasting of her experience castrating pigs after being graduated from Iowa State University.
The pig connotation will follow her forever.
The Pew Research Center says the new Congress is more religious than the rest of us. While one out of five Americans says he/she is "unaffiliated" when it comes to religion, only one member, Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ., did not offer a religious affiliation. Fifty-five percent of senators and 58 percent of representatives are Protestants. Twenty-six percent of senators and 32 percent of representatives are Catholic. More than 92 percent of the 535 members of Congress are Christian, with seven who are pastors.
So clearly they believe in the messages of loving thy neighbor as thyself and charity beginning at home.
Perhaps it will be a year of the Golden Rule replacing my way or the highway.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.