House joins Senate, rejects pay raise
Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 8:02 pm
By JIM ABRAMS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare outbreak of political solidarity, lawmakers agreed Tuesday that giving themselves a pay raise in an election year with the unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent is a bad idea.
The House voted 402-15 to deny its members an automatic cost-of-living raise in fiscal year 2011 beginning in October, depriving them of an estimated $1,600 increase and keeping their salaries at $174,000 a year. The Senate took identical action five days earlier.
Lawmakers put a freeze on their salaries last year, resolving that padding their incomes during the depths of the recession would not sit well with voters back home.
Automatic cost-of-living pay increases have been in effect since 1989, when as part of ethics reform lawmakers agreed to give up getting paid for speeches, a lucrative source of side income.
In return, pay jumped from $96,600 in 1990 to $125,100 in 1991.
The pay increases, determined by a formula tied to the COLA increases of federal workers, have since shielded members of Congress from having to go on record in support of giving themselves more money. The increases can only be stopped if members pass legislation to do so.
“Utahns are struggling to pay their bills, the federal deficit is off the charts. If there was ever a time for us to walk the walk on controlling spending, this is it,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat who sponsored Tuesday’s bill and has introduced legislation to repeal the automatic COLA.
Except for several years after Republicans gained the majority in the mid-1990s and again in 2007 and last year, lawmakers have enjoyed increases over a two-decade period from 1989, nearly doubling their salaries.
It wasn’t always like that. Congressional pay stood at $8 a day from 1817 until 1855, when it went up to $3,000 a year, according to Congressional Research Service records.
During the Great Depression lawmakers actually cut their salaries, from $10,000 to $9,000 in 1932 and then to $8,500 in 1933.
While no one opposed the measure on the House floor, there is private sentiment that lawmakers are not overpaid in a city where the lobbyists who try to influence policy may be getting double or triple their salaries.
Many members must also maintain a home in the expensive Washington housing market in addition to homes in their districts, and there is concern that salaries must be adequate to attract those who are not wealthy to public office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes $223,500, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, receive $193,400. President Barack Obama makes $400,000.
The bill is H.R. 5146.
On the Net:
Published in The Messenger 4.28.10