Oh, the poor congressman! "No poor man of ability has any business in Congress unless he is the sort of patriot who wants to serve his country solely for the love of it," says a book from the Goodwill Industries book sale. "Otherwise, if a man is able to make a comfortable living at home, he should stay there and never come to Congress."
These words were penned in 1906 by O. O. Stealey, the Washington correspondent for the Louisville Courier-Journal, in a book, "Twenty Years in the Press Gallery," that is a marvelous period piece. The gallery refers to the congressional press galleries from which we ink-stained wretches view the nation's lawmakers.
When Stealey wrote his book, congressmen were paid $1,800 a year. They now earn -- or, critics might say, are paid -- $72,200.
"The price of living in Washington depends as elsewhere on how you live," Stealey wrote in 1906. "It costs rich congressmen in Washington about $2,000 per month to live, but they live high and entertain lavishly. Congressmen in moderate circumstances who have their families with them live on about $300 per month.
"A congressman who has only his salary for support takes his wife and children to a private boarding house and manages to get through the month on about $150, but even this eats a big hole in his income with campaign notes always falling due -- just at the wrong time."
However, the author continued, "It is true that some of the members, poor and economical, who have no families, or if they have, do not bring them to Washington, live on a hundred dollars or less a month. I have known a number of these." Some returned home with sizeable nest eggs.
Some ex-congressmen, then as now, remained in Washington. Some became lobbyists: a "step he takes if he is really not a man of sufficient ability in his profession to obtain a paying practice."
How times, and money, change!
The book sale that produced this gem continues through Wednesday, starting at 10 a.m. daily, at 1255 23d St. NW.