Should U.S. Congressman Trey Radel Have Been Drug Tested?

U.S. Rep Trey Radel (R) Florida
U.S. Rep Trey Radel (R) Florida

On October 29, 2013, U.S. Congressman Trey Radel (R) was arrested and charged for possession of cocaine in Washington, D.C..  Representative Radel is scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior court on Wednesday November 20, 2013.  The Freshman Congressman was elected as U.S. Representative of Florida’s Southwest District which includes Fort Myers, Naples, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs and Marco Island last year.  According to WJLA News in Washington D.C.,  a DEA official said Radel allegedly bought cocaine from an undercover agent in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood on Oct. 29. Later that night, federal authorities went to his apartment and informed him that he would be facing criminal charges related to his purchase of cocaine.

Should Recipients of  Federal Funds Be Drug Tested?

Earlier this year on February 28, 2013, U.S. Congressman Stephen Fincher (R) of Tennessee the Welfare Integrity Act of 2013.  This bill was introduced to amend title IV of the Social Security Act to require States to implement a drug testing program for applicants for and recipients of assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Under the Welfare Integrity Act, recipients of welfare would be required to take random drug tests for illegal substances. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Rep. Fincher stated: “Currently the federal government enables drug abusers a safety-net by allowing them to participate in the TANF program.  Instead of having to make the hard-choice between drugs and other essential needs, abusers are able to rely on their monthly check to help them pay their bills.”

Notably, Rep Fincher and his family are also recipients of federal government financial assistance.  The Fincher family business is farming cotton, corn soy beans and wheat.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data, in the past decade, Fincher Farms has received $8.9 million in farm subsidies.  Comparatively, a family of three approximately receives $8100 a year.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R) Tennessee
U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R) Tennessee

This past summer, an amendment that empowered state governments to drug test welfare recipients  was proposed. By voice vote, the amendment passed and ironically, Radel voted in favor of a broader food stamps bill that required TANF recipients to be drug tested.

For some time, it has been my opinion that if TANF recipients should be subject to random drug testing for $8100, then all recipients of federal benefits should also be subject to the same standard.  Currently, the salary (2013) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year. Furthermore, the Speaker of the House receives $223,500/year.  While the Majority Leader and Minority Leader each receives $193,400/year.

In addition, U.S. legislators receive health benefits and Social Security.

The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because the CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal workers. The result was the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986.

Lastly, Members of Congress are also entitled to receive pensions.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972.  The average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.

A spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner’s office said: “Members of Congress should be held to the highest standards, and the alleged crime will be handled by the courts, beyond that, this is between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents.”  Rep. Radel is married and has one child.  In a statement released on Tuesday November 19, 2013, Radel said:

“I’m profoundly sorry to let down my family, particularly my wife and son, and the people of Southwest Florida,” Radel said in a statement. “I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice.”

Radel Family

Unfortunately, Radel’s mishap is being publicized during a time when another elected official is being criticized for illicit drug use.  For those who may not be privy to such information, I am referring to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who has admitted to smoking “crack” cocaine.

All things considered, government officials are also human and are not impervious to even the most common pitfalls that have victimized the young, the old, the poor and the rich alike.  If Rep. Fincher insists on such measures, then should all individuals who benefit from finances or subsidies from the federal government be required to be drug tested?  If Rep. Radel was previously drug tested would this crime still have been committed?


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