Congress Should Reject $4,700 Pay Raise, Taxpayers' and Seniors’ Groups Say

December 18, 2008 - 7:47 PM
An automatic 2.8 percent congressional pay raise sends the wrong message in these tough financial times -- esprecially to seniors on Social Security and fixed incomes.

Chamber of U.S. House of Representatives during State of the Union address, 2008. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Members of Congress don’t need a $4,700 pay raise and should vote to nullify a provision that automatically kicks in during January giving them a cost of living adjustment, taxpayer and senior citizens’ groups tell CNSNews.com.
 
“I think there’s something hypocritical about a Congress that will lambaste automakers or the financial industry for reaping big executive pay packages . . .  as they are very quietly getting a $4,700 raise themselves,” Brad Phillips, head of the Senior Citizens League, said Thursday.Congress is poised to receive $2.5 million dollars in additional compensation in January, thanks to a 1989 amendment allowing for automatic raises – unless lawmakers specifically vote to reject them.
 
Other federal budget watchdogs agree that Congress should vote to nullify the increase, which would raise the annual salary of members of Congress to $174,000.
 
Congress should lead by example and refuse a pay hike in this economic recession, Phillips said.  
 
“Congress is really tone-deaf to what’s happening in the country now,” he added, arguing that an estimated 12 percent of senior citizens in the country are straddling the poverty line.
 
Since 2000, he said seniors have lost 51 percent of their buying power.
 
Both Phillips and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform agreed that the $2.5 million spent on the raise is negligible when compared with the $700 billion financial bailout package.
 
“This pay increase is such a fraction of the amount of money these guys [Congress] are throwing away, it’s frightening,” said Norquist.
 
But Congress could enhance its image with voters by refusing to accept the raise, according to Brian Riedel, senior federal budget analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
 
“I think it can be symbolically helpful for Congress to reject pay raises at times when a lot of Americans are struggling and earning significantly less than Congress,” Riedel said.
 
“The budget savings would not be large, and there’s also the issue that usually federal judge pay is tied to Congressional pay,” Riedel told CNSNews.com. “Therefore, you wouldn’t want to necessarily refuse the pay raise for federal judges.”
 
Still, Congress should refuse the raise, Riedel said.
 
“They’re already well-paid,” he added.
 
The Senior Citizens League pointed out that with an income of $174,000, a member of Congress would be earning in the top 6 percent of Americans in yearly income.
 
“I think it’s fair to say that a large number, probably hundreds of members of Congress, are in the top 1 or 2 percent of all Americans in terms of salaries,” Phillips noted, saying that benefits and spouses’ salaries are not included in the base salary.
 
Norquist said the pay raise comes to a Congress whose approval ratings are pretty low.
 
“They earned the low approval rating; they didn’t earn the pay increase,” Norquist said. “In a normal business organization, these guys would all be in prison. Everything they do is with stolen money. They’ve signed contracts they can’t honor, they’ve committed spending that they don’t have the resources to meet,” he added.