...and light the torches.
From The Hill:
With economy in shambles, Congress gets a raise
|By Jordy Yager|
|Posted: 12/17/08 05:41 PM [ET]|
A crumbling economy, more than 2 million constituents whohave lost their jobs this year, and congressional demands of CEOs to work forfree did not convince lawmakers to freeze their own pay.
Instead, they will get a $4,700 pay increase, amountingto an additional $2.5 million that taxpayers will spend on congressionalsalaries, and watchdog groups are not happy about it.
“As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executivesto accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault fortheir own personal gain,” said Daniel O’Connell, chairman of The SeniorCitizens League (TSCL), a non-partisan group. “This money would be much better spenthelping the millions of seniors who are living below the poverty line andstruggling to keep their heat on this winter.”
However, at 2.8 percent, the automatic raise thatlawmakers receive is only half as large as the 2009 cost of living adjustmentof Social Security recipients.
Still, Steve Ellis, vice president of the budget watchdogTaxpayers for Common Sense, said Congress should have taken the rare step offreezing its pay, as lawmakers did in 2000.
“Look at the way the economy is and how most peoplearen’t counting on a holiday bonus or a pay raise — they’re just happy to havegainful employment,” said Ellis. “But you have the lawmakers who are set up andready to get their next installment of a pay raise and go happily along theirway.”
Member raises are often characterized as examples ofwasteful spending, especially when many constituents and businesses in members’districts are in financial despair.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, a first-term Democrat from Arizona,sponsored legislation earlier this year that would have prevented the automaticpay adjustments from kicking in for members next year. But the bill, whichattracted 34 cosponsors, failed to make it out of committee.
“They don’t even go through the front door. They have itset up so that it’s wired so that you actually have to undo the pay raiserather than vote for a pay raise,” Ellis said.
Freezing congressional salaries is hardly a new idea onCapitol Hill.
Lawmakers have floated similar proposals in every yeardating back to 1995, and long before that. Though the concept of forgoing araise has attracted some support from more senior members, it is most popularwith freshman lawmakers, who are often most vulnerable.
In 2006, after the Republican-led Senate rejected anincrease to the minimum wage, Democrats, who had just come to power in theHouse with a slew of freshmen, vowed to block their own pay raise until thewage increase was passed. The minimum wage was eventually increased andlawmakers received their automatic pay hike.
In the beginning days of 1789, Congress was paid only $6a day, which would be about $75 daily by modern standards. But by 1965 memberswere receiving $30,000 a year, which is the modern equivalent of about$195,000.
Currently the average lawmaker makes $169,300 a year,with leadership making slightly more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)makes $217,400, while the minority and majority leaders in the House and Senatemake $188,100.
Ellis said that while freezing the pay increase would bea step in the right direction, it would be better to have it set up so thatmembers would have to take action, and vote, for a pay raise and deal with theconsequences, rather than get one automatically.
“It is probably never going to be politically popular toraise Congress’s salary,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to findtaxpayers saying, ‘Yeah I think I should pay my congressman more’.”