(CNSNews.com) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) is not saying whether she supports a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) that would repeal the law that gives members of Congress an automatic pay raise every year without the members having to cast a vote on it.
Without Pelosi's support, and the willingness of House Democratic leaders to bring the bill up for a vote, automatic annual pay raises for Congress will continue.
At her weekly press conference last Thursday, Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked whether she supported Reid's legislation which would force Congress to vote every year on cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) pay raises for House members and senators.
The speaker said only that members of Congress had already agreed to forego a cost of living adjustment (COLA) pay raise for 2010.
“At the beginning of this year, I said to the leadership that we would not have a cost-of-living adjustment for this year,” Pelosi told reporters. “The other fact is that every year there is an opportunity to vote on the COLA.”
The speaker’s response, however, while technically correct, side-steps a key issue: Under current rules, members of Congress get the pay raise automatically unless Congress decides to hold a specific vote not to accept it. The bill sponsored by Reid in the Senate would require a vote for every pay raise Congress gets.
When asked at a press briefing Thursday, Pelosi was noncommittal on whether she would support Reid’s measure --which the Senate leader has pledged to bring up for a vote in his chamber.
Instead, Pelosi--the highest paid member of Congress--said that members had ample opportunity to debate and vote on the issue, ignoring the fact that they rarely do.
“As I said, under the current system, members have an opportunity to vote on that each year. We will continue that tradition in the regular order of the House of Representatives.”
According to the U.S. House of Representatives Web site, Pelosi makes $223,500 a year as speaker. Reid, as majority leader of the Senate, makes $193,400. By contrast, the Chief Justice of the United States makes $217,000 per year and President Obama makes $400,000.
Congress hasn’t denied itself a raise since 2007, when it agreed with President Bush that Congress should join the executive branch in freezing its pay.
Pelosi's unwillingness to state an unambiguous position on Reid's proposal seems to fulfill a prediction made on the Senate floor by Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.) who originally offered the bill forcing votes on all congressional pay raises as an amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill.
Vitter agreed to allow cloture on the omnibus bill in exchange for Reid allowing a vote on his amendment. But then Reid offered his own stand-alone version of the bill which he said he would bring up for an independent vote--giving senators fearful of voting against Vitter's amendment cover for voting against Vitter's proposal as an amendment to the omnibus bill then voting for it in the form Reid's stand alone bill.
If Reid's bill passed the Senate but then is never brough up for a vote in the House, it will not become law, meaning the senators who voted for it can have their cake and eat it too: They can say they voted to end automatic annual payraises, but not lose their automatic annual payraises.
“I agree with Senator Vitter that cost-of-living adjustments for Members of Congress should not be automatic,: Reid said on the Senate floor last Tuesday. “ That is why I introduced a freestanding bill last week that would do just that. By passing this legislation as a stand-alone, it can become law without threatening completion of this (omnibus) appropriations bill.”
Vitter asked Reid directly if he had an agreement with Pelosi for her to bring the bill up in the House and Reid conceded that he didn't.
“I would simply ask the majority leader, does he have a commitment from the Speaker of the House that his bill will be given a vote on the House floor in the near future,” Vitter enquired.
Reid responded he had not received a guarantee that the bill will receive a hearing – let alone a vote.
“I have not gotten commitments from anyone in the House,” Reid said. “She runs her little show over there, and I do my best to have some input on what happens here. But I can't make that kind of commitment.”
Vitter said: "I think this stand-alone bill is nothing more than cover, nothing more than something to point to, when it will not be taken up on the floor of the House."
Reid can, if he wants, bring his bill to the Senate floor for a vote at any time. Though the majority leader introduced his proposal March 9, he has not yet scheduled a vote on it. Setting the Senate’s schedule is the prerogative of the Senate majority leader.
Vitter, in a March 12 letter to Reid, urged him to fulfill his promise and schedule a vote.
“I ask that you promptly schedule it,” Vitter wrote, “which is within your authority and doe not require unanimous consent.”
As of Monday, Reid had not scheduled a vote on the bill, S. 542.
Speaker Pelosi’s office, meanwhile, did not respond to CNSNews.com’s request to clarify her statement from Thursday.