From the October 2002 Idaho Observer:
Entire world in tailspin but the Congress gives itself another raise
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) today denounced Congress for increasing its salary by $5,000 to a total of $155,000 per year. Congress amended the law in 1989 to allow for automatic cost of living increases every year, unless there is a specific vote to cancel it. Fiscal 2003 will make four years in a row that Congress refused to turn down its pay hike. CCAGW is joined by Ralph Nader and several other organizations in calling this year's pay raise untimely, hypocritical, and completely insensitive to the nation's hardships.
Members of Congress have the only job in the country whose occupants can set their own salary without regard to performance, profit, or economic climate, CCAGW President Tom Schatz said. At the very least, Congress should hold hearings on the proposed raise, and permit a roll call vote to reject it. Unfortunately, both parties share a 'gentleman's agreement' to stay quiet on the issue and pass it with as little fanfare as possible.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), four years of budget surplus will plummet to a $157 billion deficit by year's end. Successive deficits will add billions more to the national debt, already looming at $6.2 trillion. The recent stock market drop has cut the retirement savings of millions of Americans, and unemployment is rising. Finally, the nation's war on terrorism and a possible invasion of Iraq will place even greater strains on the government's resources.
The average family's share of the national debt amounts to $20,000, continued Schatz. This burden is the direct result of partisan politics, reckless spending, and budget shenanigans in Washington. And now the politicians who created this problem want a pay raise! What exactly are they rewarding themselves for?
Senators and representatives earn four times the median income of full-time, year-round American male workers, excluding benefits and pensions. Over the past five years, members of Congress have given themselves $13,300 per year in raises, which is more than a minimum wage employee would earn during an entire year of full-time work. Other perks include: free outpatient care at certain hospitals; a special $3,000 tax deduction, frequent-flyer miles from government travel; free meals and vacations from lobbyists and business groups, access to first-class gyms and tennis courts, taxpayer subsidized life and health insurance, and a special pension program.
Meanwhile, Congress is way behind schedule on its most fundamental tasks: passing the 13 appropriations bills that will fund the federal government's next fiscal year by the Oct.1 deadline; presiding over the near collapse of Amtrak; the ongoing financial death spiral at the U.S. Postal Service; the Senate's inability to pass a budget; and the Senate's failure to confirm or reject dozens of the president's nominees for sensitive executive and judicial posts.
Congressional pay raises keep coming despite Congress's failure to do its job, concluded Schatz. Since 9/11, there has been a lot of talk about sacrifice. But politicians are unwilling to sacrifice a simple pay raise, to say nothing of the $20 billion in pork they smuggled to their home districts last year, or the $159 billion in waste and abuse they allowed to be spent.
The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste is the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste, the nation's largest (one million members and supporters) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.
Note: The Idaho Observer has been informally polling people at random for several years. People have been virtually unanimous on two points: Congress does not deserve raises and Congress should not be allowed to vote raises for itself.
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