(The Root) — Republican nominee Mitt Romney was criticized for repeatedly reinforcing the notion that the GOP was out of touch. His references to the "47 percent" — the percentage of Americans he believed would support President Obama no matter what because they were essentially government freeloaders — not to mention the custom elevator constructed for his car collection, supported the perception that he and his party were incapable of relating to the struggles of average Americans.
Well, Romney may have retreated from the public eye, but it looks like another Republican politician has stepped up to fill his out-of-touch shoes.
During a discussion related to the contentious topic of health care reform, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he was "stuck" making $172,000 a year as a member of Congress. Worse, Gingrey insinuated that low-paid congressional staffers are ultimately better off than representatives like himself despite the fact that the majority of congressional staffers make less than $50,000 annually.
Gingrey's logic was that congressional aides can simply become lobbyists later in their careers and earn substantially more — an option really open only to the most seasoned and powerful aides. But making Gingrey's whining all the more offensive is that his net worth is reportedly in the neighborhood of at least $3 million.
To put the realities of the average American in context, the median income per household, not simply per individual, was $51,017 in 2012, which is a decrease from 2011. Even more disturbing is the fact that 15 percent of the population is living in poverty, including a plurality of children of color. But perhaps the most troubling fact of all is that the median household income was actually higher in 1989. So at a time in which most Americans are barely making half of $100,000 and many are living in poverty, a member of Congress is complaining about his $172,000 salary.
Did I mention that he also gets benefits? In fact, it was a discussion of the benefits available to Congress and congressional employees that sparked Gingrey's Romney-esque gaffe. Gingrey is a staunch opponent of Obamacare, but like many Republican lawmakers, he has found himself caught between an ideological rock and a hard place regarding an Obamacare exemption benefiting members of Congress and their staffs. The exemption would allow the government to continue premium payments for congressional aides and members, even as the new health care exchange requirements dictated by the law take effect.
Gingrey opposes such an exemption, which has triggering something of a civil war within conservative ranks struggling with formulating the next leg of their anti-Obamacare strategy. Younger congressional aides without the benefit of the financial cushion that Gingrey enjoys, and who would benefit from the exchange option, were said to take issue with the congressman's comments and helped make them public.
But Gingrey's gaffe simply reinforces an ongoing problem for the GOP as it seeks to win the messaging war just as health care reform becomes not just the law of the land but a way of life in America.
With medical bills recently deemed the No. 1 cause of bankruptcies, Americans, including Republican congressional aides, seem ready to finally say enough is enough. This means that as long as the GOP is run by men who think elevators for their cars and making six figures embody the "problems" of the average Americans, the Grand Old Party will continue to be the incredible shrinking party.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.