Economy in Peril; Congress Poised for Pay Raise

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 12:52 PM EST

Taxpayers for Common Sense has a point. Member of Congress are poised to receive their annual 2.8 percent pay raise, boosting their base salaries by $4700 to $174,000, while working Americans are suffering cuts to their 401K matches, suspensions of annual cost-of-living increases, and in some cases salary decreases. And that's those of us who are lucky enough to be employed. It just doesn't seem right.

Congress has managed to avoid the always unpopular pay raise issue since 1989, when the House voted to make the yearly cost-of-living increase automatic—that is, unless members vote to reject the pay hike. Taxpayers for Common Sense is calling on Congress to do just that:

To regain some credibility and demonstrate shared sacrifice, Congress should immediately move to suspend the pay raise and swear them off until the economy is in full recovery. Or until the unemployment rate is well below 5%. Or both.

There is recent precedent for a contingent raise. When the Democrats took control in the 110th Congress, they voted not to take a raise until the minimum wage was increased. After that happened, they took their raise. Right now many Americans can't even get a minimum wage job, so this seems to be a good time for similar action.


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Some lawmakers agree. Earlier this week, Reps Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) announced that they are pushing legislation to block the automatic raise, and so far more than 60 House members have signed onto the bill. (See here to check if your Rep is one of them.) Notably absent from that list are members of the House Democratic leadership including Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn.

How much will forgoing the pay raise save? About $2.5 million, all told, which isn't going to put much of a dent in the deficit. But it's the thought that counts, an act of solidarity to show working Joes and Janes that members of Congress are truly in tune with their economic woes. With its dismal approval rating, Congress could certainly stand to bank some political capital.

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