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Social nets wrap: Vitter, Feingold call for end to automatic congressional pay raises

June 22, 2010 | 10:24 am
  Feingold_pelosi_vitter

One of the Hill's most prolific social networkers, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, tweeted Monday advocating an end to automatic congressional pay raises.

Vitter, a Republican facing a bumpy reelection ride in an atmosphere hostile to incumbents, joined liberal Wisconsin Sen. Russell D. Feingold -- also facing a tough battle in November --  and 18 others across party lines in signing a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to bring to the floor a bill that matches Senate legislation to curtail automatic congressional pay raises.

The signatories claim the measure would save taxpayers $80 million over 10 years, and the letter speaks volumes about how much of Washington's recent focus is on saving money (or attempting to ride out an avalanche of new spending on top of a mountainous deficit; whatever works).

While the House in May passed a bill later signed into law blocking raises just for 2011,  Vitter et al cry foul that the April 22 passing of the Senate's bill, S.620, which would end the entire system of automatic pay raises, has not yet been brought to a House vote. 

Feingold, who has pledged to return every pay raise of his most recent six-year term, said: "I'm pleased Congress acted to give up its raise next year but it's time to end this system once and for all.  The House should follow the Senate's lead and end this back-door pay raise system."

Under the current system, members don't have to vote themselves an annual pay increase each year. Basically, they're given a pay raise automatically unless...

... they choose to vote to block the increase.  Think of it as you getting an automatic raise each year unless you say to your boss, "Hey, wait a minute. I don't deserve that this year." Nice work if you can get it.

Members voted to not receive the raise for  2010 and 2011, but there's nothing to stop them not acting to receive the increase in 2012 and, like Buzz Lightyear facing his own astronomical black holes in "Toy Story 3," to infinity and beyond.  Current polls show approval for Congress at just 19% while nationwide unemployment hovers stubbornly at a smidgen below 10%.

Congressional lawmakers are paid $174,000 annually, although higher-ranking officials, including Pelosi, are paid more (Pelosi makes $223,500 while Minority Leader John Boehner makes $193,400. Before endorsements -- we're kidding! -- President Obama is paid $400,000). Congressional representatives have an average net worth of about $1 million and last year had more than 230 millionaires in their ranks.  Senators have an average net worth of about $15 million.

In May, the House voted to stop its automatic $1,600 raise in 2011 and to block a $2,160 raise for 2010 but in 2009 they received a $4,100 raise (that's deflation for you).  

Since 1990, Congress has accepted the raise 13 times and voted to block the raise seven times, mostly in the early days of GOP control of Congress (although Congress has increased its pay in standalone legislation more than two dozen times).  Cost-of-living adjustments are calculated based on changes in private-sector wages measured by the Employment Cost Index. 

The letter to Pelosi  also was signed by Sens. Charles E. Grassley, John Barrasso, Michael Bennet, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Tom Coburn, Susan Collins, Byron L. Dorgan, Michael B. Enzi, Kirsten Gillibrand, Johnny Isakson, Mike Johanns, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Jeff Merkley, Patty Murray  and Olympia J. Snowe.

Vitter, meanwhile, clearly has his eyes on other redistributions, later tweeting: Obama’s labor chief, Secretary Hilda Solis thinks illegal immigrants should get fair wages http://bit.ly/cEP7S4 #LAsen #TCOT.  But that's another story.

-- Craig Howie

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Photo: Feingold; Pelosi; Vitter. Credit: ABC News, Linda Spillers; Associated Press.

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