VIRGINIA BEACH -- Almost no one is happy with congress these days. There's constant bickering over spending and messy debates over raising the debt-limit. Some are not surprised that congress has the lowest approval ever.
“They're not doing a good job. Come on, look at the state of things," a retired firefighter told 13News.
Yet congress apparently felt it did such a good job last year, members handed out bonuses to staffers that cost you an estimated $10 million.
"Isn't that special. I think I'm in the wrong line of work," was another complaint we heard.
Each member of congress has about 15 staffers. There are legislative assistants, people to handle the press, and a chief of staff. They're all paid with taxpayer money. Some staffers barely make enough to live in Washington D.C., but others make six-figure incomes. And they, too, often get bonuses.
“It’s still morally reprehensible at this time,” Dr. Chuck Dunn, dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University told us.
”I’m not opposed to bonuses, but to give bonuses now, when people are losing jobs, losing homes, the economy is down, that’s what makes it morally reprehensible,” Dunn added.
In Virginia, it's good to work for Congressman Jim Moran. According to the website, Legistorm, the Democrat from northern Virginia paid more than $200,000 dollars in bonuses.
Closer to home, Scott Rigell was the only local congressman to hand out staff bonuses. We asked him why, with so many people in his district struggling today.
His answer to that: "It's a great time to bring accountability to Washington and pay for performance. That's exactly what we're doing in my office," Rigell said.
Rigell, who promised to be a reformed member of congress, paid more than $50,000 in bonuses to his staff. His chief of staff got a $5,000 bonus, bringing his salary to close to $150,000 a year.
“We're managing taxpayer money wisely, really proud of how we are doing this and proud of our staff," Rigell added.
Rigell's office defended the bonuses by telling us the congressman's office budget is less than his predecessor and his staff salaries are the second lowest of any member of congress in Virginia.
Dr. Dunn says all members of congress are missing the big picture. He says with a nine-percent approval rating, they need to consider the public perception of handing out bonuses.
"What does this say with regard to the view we have as a people of the institution?" Dunn asked.
Members of congress get about $1.5 million dollars a year to run their offices and have broad discretion as to how they spend it. At the end of the year, any funds they don't use, or pay in bonuses, are returned to the U-S Treasury.