Groups blast Congress
over pay raise

By Jon Dougherty

Government watchdog and taxpayers’-rights groups have blasted Congress for giving itself a $5,000 pay raise this year – for the fourth year in a row – as the nation becomes mired in war, recession and ever-increasing federal budget deficits.

“Members of Congress have the only job in the country whose occupants can set their own salary without regard to performance, profit, or economic climate,” said Tom Schatz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, in an Aug. 30 statement.

“Congress has shown admirable strength and unity in the aftermath of the attack upon our nation,” added Pete Sepp, vice president of communications for the 335,000-member non-profit National Taxpayers Union, in a statement last week. “Lawmakers can now provide an additional fiscal and moral gesture of courage, by rejecting next year’s scheduled salary hike.”

Base congressional salaries have climbed from $129,500 in 1992 to $155,000 this year, or 16 percent, if the raise is approved. Congress amended the law in 1989 to allow for automatic “cost-of-living” raises unless members specifically vote to turn down the increase.

“The average family’s share of the national debt amounts to $20,000,” said Schatz. “This burden is the direct result of partisan politics, reckless spending and budget shenanigans in Washington.”

He said the war on terrorism and likely invasion of Iraq will place even greater strains on an already strained budget, at a time when “the recent stock market drop has cut the retirement savings of millions of Americans. …”

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, federal budget deficits will continue through 2005, but a surplus should reappear thereafter, climbing to a “relatively modest” figure of about $1 trillion by 2010. Prior to Jan. 1, 2001, the CBO had predicted 10-year surpluses of $5.4 trillion.

Council for Citizens Against Government Waste – a one-million member, non-partisan watchdog organization – also says lawmakers have other perks besides automatic pay raises, including “free outpatient care at certain hospitals, a special $3,000 tax deduction, access to first-class gyms and tennis courts, taxpayer subsidized life and health insurance, and a special pension program.”

“Since 9/11, there has been a lot of talk about sacrifice,” said Schatz. “But politicians are unwilling to sacrifice a simple pay raise, to say nothing of the $20 billion in pork they smuggled to their home districts last year, or the $159 billion in waste and abuse they allowed to be spent.”

Several members have spoken out against the pay raise.

New York Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, both Democrats, have spoken out against the pay raise, though Clinton backed a pay raise last year.

“It just doesn’t look like a year for a pay raise,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. “It’s really for everybody’s own good not to make the mistake of thinking we’re different from the rest of America, which is going through a pretty tough time.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also opposed the raise. “I voted for a pay raise and against one before, depending on the circumstances. This year, I’ll vote ‘no’ because it is not the time,” she said.

“Current circumstances force us to fight a different war from those in the past, but the precedents established by previous Congresses still have relevance today,” said Sepp. “Repealing the next pay raise would be one small but symbolic act to inspire Americans who may make great sacrifices ahead.”

This latest automatic congressional pay raise will take effect Jan. 2, 2003, unless Congress specifically votes to turn it down.