Our greedy Congress

By Jane Chastain

Shortly after the White House announced that President Bush planned to give federal workers a 3.1 percent pay raise next year – in line with the private sector – the wailing began. These civil servants are demanding the same 4.1 percent increase recently approved for the military. This is outrageous! Military salaries are a disgrace, while our other government employees are the most coddled group of workers on the planet.

Even more outrageous is the fact that a bipartisan group of Washington area congressmen has pledged to deliver that 4.1 percent salary increase when the House reconvenes in January. Make no mistake, these lawmakers are not truly concerned about the pay of these pitiful plutocrats. They are concerned about their own skin. These disgruntled federal employees live in their districts. It is nothing more than a shameless attempt to buy their votes with our money.

However, there may be another ulterior motive. These lawmakers would like to take some of the attention off their own 3.4 percent salary increase. With the economic downturn, people in the private sector are being squeezed. Companies are going belly-up. Many people have lost their jobs and their life savings. Those on fixed incomes are barely making ends meet as interest payments and stock dividends have all but disappeared and, bear in mind, Social Security recipients will see only a 1.4 percent increase in benefits in 2003, down from a 2.6 percent increase last year.

The performance of this Congress has been shameful! These people don’t deserve a pay increase. They have been partying with our money for the last two years, with little concern for the recession, the war on terrorism or the 9-11 fallout. In fact, they worked overtime to soak up the last of the surpluses from the bubble in the stock market, adding money to existing programs and their pet pork-barrel projects and creating new non-essential programs for the benefit of powerful special-interest groups with lobbyists who contribute to their re-election campaigns.

They never looked back. Now that the red ink has arrived, this Congress is not talking about undoing the damage it has done to the federal budget. Some members are looking to roll back the modest tax refund that was passed when President Bush first took office. Why not roll back their salary increases instead?

Thanks to a new study by Demian S. Brady for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, we know the true cost of this latest congressional pay raise. It is a lot more than the $2,517,100 necessary to give the average congressman an additional $4,700 and the leadership a raise of between $5,000 and $5,800 to bring their salaries to between $154,700 and $192,100 respectively. The pay raise will boost spending in 2003 by a whopping $11 million.

This is because congressional pay increases also increase members’ and former presidents’ pension benefit payments. The salaries of federal judges, cabinet-level officials, administrators, commissioners, board members and roughly 2,800 positions listed in the Executive Schedule of the U.S. Code also are linked to congressional salaries.

The votes on these congressional pay raises always have been controversial. Prior to 1989, they usually took place in the dead of night. Then, Congress devised a plan to get members out from under the embarrassing position of having to vote on their own pay raise. They decided to give themselves an automatic annual pay increase tied to the Employment Cost Index put out by the Department of Labor, unless a member forces the issue to the floor for a vote.

Brady reports that from 1900 to 1988 the congressional salary remained steady and averaged just $81,802.80 in inflation adjusted dollars. However, since that time, it has ballooned by over $65,000. That increase alone is 50 percent higher than the current median household income of $42,148. It’s little wonder members of Congress are out of touch with average Americans!

Brady reminds us that in the founding years of the Republic, congressmen were paid $6 for each day they were in session ($119 in today’s dollars). It’s little wonder they were happy to wrap up the business of the country in short order and go back to their real jobs.

Throughout our history, Americans have willingly made sacrifices in times of need and Congresses led by example. During World War II, members went without salary increases. During the Great Depression our lawmakers actually took a cut in pay.

These last two years have been extremely difficult for the people of this country, but these greedy over-paid lawmakers have had a spending party and, worse still, they show no remorse.