Friday, December 19, 2008

Hypocrisy in government - Congress gets a raise

The Hill is reporting that Congress is getting a $4,700 pay increase (2.8%).

"A crumbling economy, more than 2 million constituents who have lost their jobs this year, and congressional demands of CEOs to work for free did not convince lawmakers to freeze their own pay.

Instead, they will get a $4,700 pay increase, amounting to an additional $2.5 million that taxpayers will spend on congressional salaries, ...

...Steve Ellis, vice president of the budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Congress should have taken the rare step of freezing its pay, as lawmakers did in 2000.

“Look at the way the economy is and how most people aren’t counting on a holiday bonus or a pay raise — they’re just happy to have gainful employment,” said Ellis. “But you have the lawmakers who are set up and ready to get their next installment of a pay raise and go happily along their way.”
Rep. Harry Mitchell, a first-term Democrat from Arizona, sponsored legislation earlier this year that would have prevented the automatic pay adjustments from kicking in for members next year. But the bill, which attracted 34 cosponsors, failed to make it out of committee."

The way it's set up, Congress has to vote to freeze pay or forgo the increase, rather than having to vote on getting the increase. This is backwards, but avoids the publicity (usually negative) of voting on giving themselves more money.

Also from the article:

"In the beginning days of 1789, Congress was paid only $6 a day, which would be about $75 daily by modern standards. But by 1965 members were receiving $30,000 a year, which is the modern equivalent of about $195,000.

Currently the average lawmaker makes $169,300 a year, with leadership making slightly more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) makes $217,400, while the minority and majority leaders in the House and Senate make $188,100.

Ellis said that while freezing the pay increase would be a step in the right direction, it would be better to have it set up so that members would have to take action, and vote, for a pay raise and deal with the consequences, rather than get one automatically.

“It is probably never going to be politically popular to raise Congress’s salary,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to find taxpayers saying, ‘Yeah I think I should pay my congressman more’.”"

By the way - these wages clearly make our Congress "rich."


Tim Higgins said...


Your information on the Congress of 1789 left out one minor detail, that Representatives were paid the $6 per day "only when in session". In other words, they were only paid when doing the people's work.

It's a shame that what was supposed to be a service that those who were able to could perform for other citizens has become a career (and a rather lucrative one at that). It is likewise a shame that these elective representatives can demand lower pay and bonuses for the private sector while holding their hand out in the public one. It is finally a shame that we demand or expect little more from them.

Maggie Thurber said...

thanks for the clarification, Tim, but the omission was in the article - not my own...

sad when you think of all the staff and offices, etc...but I'm sure many people would say that things today are much more complex, so the additional size is needed.

Of course, if Congress had stuck to the founders' intent, things wouldn't be so complex, but that point is never made by proponents of growing government.

navyvet said...

Wasn't that long ago that the Pres. was paid $200,000/yr...

If I were King, Congressional pay would decrease $20,000 each year until such time that they eliminate deficit spending annually.

Then their salaries would be frozen at the lower amount for 10 years....afterwhich any increases would have to be voted on by the "people" bi-annually to coincide with Congressional elections......

Also, their benefits would be reduced 50% for each year that they spend our $ resulting in a a deficit.....

Merry Christmas.

ps....we are only safe when Congress is not in session......

Tim Higgins said...


I would propose to make it simpler still and simply eliminate the retirement benefits for all of Congress. Perhaps if they had to provide for their own futures, they would not and could not remain professional politicians

skeeter1107 said...


I agree. Remove the financial incentive to stay in office at any cost, and you wouldn't see the same sort of behavior coming out of Congress.

The original intent of the founding fathers was that serving the government was an obligation..a duty. A temporary period between your life before and after political office.

Too often we see political decisions made solely for the reason of "will this help me get re-elected?" Instead the obvious, better and truer question is "what is the right thing to do?"

The A-Hole Lawyer said...

I agree foregoing a pay raise would have been smart. And, I definitely agree that lifetime medical care for senators/representatives regardless of term in office is insane (IE auto industries huge retiree medical costs).

I don't know if the pay for legislatures includes an additional housing allowance or not. If not, and members must maintain a D.C. area residence, even an apartment, and their home residence - 170K a year is not a pile of money.

Being in the House/Senate in the modern era is a full time, year round job. I also don't know what kind of travel fees we pay for them. Every trip home, some, probably all of them, but I have not done that homework. What do states kick in to get their senator/representative home at times?

So while I agree the automatic raise (sounds unionish) is a bad system, while I agree voting not to get the raise this year would have been politically savvy, I don't think they are overpaid on a basic level. Now of course if you collect a paycheck from anyone at any job, and don't do the job -- your overpaid.


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