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Rich Senator, ‘Poor’ Senator

(Those households represented the highest median net worth when home equity was not counted. All of the 110 million households tallied reported a median net worth of $59,000 in 2002, or $11,000 excluding home equity.)

The Census Bureau report tallied assets including interest-earning bank accounts; certificates of deposit; bonds, stocks and mutual funds; rental properties; primary and vacation homes; retirement accounts; and vehicles — and subtracted for liabilities including mortgages, vehicle loans, credit card debt, medical bills and education loans.

The report did not include assets such as equity in pension plans, cash value of life insurance policies, home furnishings or jewelry.

The Senate first earned its moniker as the “millionaires club” in the late 19th century, explained Senate Historian Don Ritchie.

“In those days Senators were elected by state legislatures and a number of people who had struck it rich in the Western states ... essentially tried to buy their way into the Senate by spreading money around the state legislatures,” Ritchie said.

“The newspapers and magazine writers began to complain that these Senators didn’t represent the public interest, they represented the private interest,” he added.

The rumblings contributed to the eventual adoption of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, providing for the direct election of Senators.

Nonetheless, Ritchie noted that in the first election following the amendment’s adoption, every Senate incumbent won re-election.

“It was not that the Senators didn’t reflect the public interest ... people in Pennsylvania wanted the steel mills and people in Louisiana wanted the sugar cane production,” he said.

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