(CNSNews.com) – When he was asked Thursday whether he would support freezing the salaries of members of Congress until massive budget deficits could be corrected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) claimed Thursday that Congress had “already” done so.
Reid and other members of Senate leadership were discussing the State of the Union address, in which President Obama said the federal government needed to “tighten its belt,” and CNSNews.com asked whether that might include such a salary freeze.
CNSNews.com asked Reid and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.): “(T)he president said last night in the State of the Union address that families across the country are tightening their belts and the federal government should too. Would each of you support freezing the salaries of members of Congress until the budget is able to be balanced?”
Reid, answering for all of them, said, “Well, I -- we’ve already done that so it’s not --” before moving on to another question.
Last February, after President Obama froze the salaries of top White House staffers, Congress indeed followed suit by voting to freeze the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) that it automatically receives each year.
But some members of Congress say freezing salary increases is not enough – and want to see a reduction in pay for everyone in the House and Senate.
Currently, the base pay for a member of Congress is $174,000 a year, although the leadership makes more money. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) makes the most, at $223,500 a year. The rest of the leaders -- Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority John Boehner (R-Ohio) --each take home $193,400 annually.
Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) introduced the Fiscal Responsibility Act in December of 2009, which would not just freeze the congressional COLA, but actually cut pay for members if the budget is not balanced. The bill would take the base pay rate for 2010 and cut 5 percent if the budget was not balanced by the end of the year. If any deficit persisted into the following year, 10 percent would then be cut from the base salary, until the budget was balanced.
That bill was referred to the House Administration Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Dec. 16, 2009, but neither has moved to report the bill to the floor for a vote.
This is the fourth time Deal has introduced the bill – it was killed by the last three Congresses: the 110th, the 109th and 108th..
In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, Obama admitted his economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and other legislation had accounted for an extra $1 trillion in deficit spending, but said he was “absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do.”
He then added: “But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”
Meanwhile, President Obama is expected to extend the pay freeze on top White House and other Executive Branch aides for an additional year, again putting the pressure on Congress to follow suit. However, no decision has yet been made on whether members will receive their COLA in 2011.