Congress Battles Over Automatic Pay Raises

Sen. David Vitter thinks Congress should bear the discomfort of voting for annual pay raises.

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This year, members of Congress will see their pay raised 2.8 percent, but they won't have to face the ailing and angry American public's censure with an awkward vote on the raise--they'll get it automatically.

Lousiana Republican Sen. David Vitter is leading an effort to oppose the practice during this ugly economic slowdown. Vitter is reportedly likely to get a vote today on his amendment to repeal the law allowing for the automatic pay raises. “Most Americans don’t have a formula at their jobs set to give them pay increases automatically. Congress shouldn’t either," Vitter said in a statement.

There's a twist, though: Vitter's amendment is included on the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and CQ reports:

The upcoming vote on Vitter’s amendment is problematic for supporters of the underlying spending measure. A vote against the amendment could put a senator in the politically perilous position of defending automatic pay increases for lawmakers at a difficult economic time for nearly all Americans. If the amendment is adopted, it could prove to be a poison pill, eroding support in both chambers for the yearlong spending measure, and forcing a House-Senate conference.

Most lawmakers will earn $174,000 this year, or $4,700 more than in 2008. These pay raises are merely intended to match the rate of inflation, according to one lawmaker. Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye told NBC's First Read: "Most Americans will tell you that when they do receive a pay adjustment to their wages, they do not consider that to be a pay raise."

Congress is required by the Constitution to set its own pay, which is a little like having to grade your own exam then share your score with your classmates. If you give yourself an 'A' you can probably expect some scorn. Of course, with 12.5 million Americans out of work and looking for jobs, this might be a good year for a lower grade--like a pay freeze.


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