Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls for $8,700 pay cut in 2011

A bipartisan contingent of freshman and sophomore lawmakers is pushing House appropriators to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 each next year.

The 5 percent cut would save taxpayers $4.7 million and comes more than a month after Congress voted and President Barack Obama signed a measure to freeze congressional pay for 2011.

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Not satisfied with halting next year’s automatic pay raise for Congress, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and seven other freshman and sophomore lawmakers wrote a letter on Wednesday evening to Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the Legislative Branch subcommittee on Appropriations, asking them to slice congressional pay next year.

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet on Thursday morning to mark up the Legislative Branch’s fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill.

But the subcommittee itself does not have the power to alter congressional pay. By statute, that decision can only be made by a full vote of the House.

The base pay for a House member is $174,000, though leaders earn a higher salary.

The push by the group stems from a measure that Kirkpatrick introduced in March, which has since garnered 29 cosponsors.

The freshman congresswoman wrote to the House Administration Committee last month requesting a markup on the legislation. But on Wednesday evening, she signaled in her letter that she had exhausted the traditional avenues for her bill’s enactment. And citing the flailing economy, Kirkpatrick emphasized that action was necessary.

“Members have an opportunity to lead by example at the federal level and do what many of our families and communities have already started to do – cut back,” the bipartisan group wrote. “Senators and Representatives can send a clear and simple message to everyone back home that we understand that they are hurting…and that our country wants a new Washington, not the same old Washington.”

Kirkpatrick’s office said that this would be the first time Congress decreased its pay in 77 years – the last time being in the midst of the Great Depression on April 1, 1933.

President Barack Obama signed a bill last month halting Congress’ automatic cost of living increase for 2011 after it easily passed both the House and Senate.

The move marks the second consecutive year lawmakers have opted not to receive their automatic cost-of-living increase. The law governing congressional pay raises requires members to vote against getting a raise. Otherwise, the increase takes effect automatically.

Congressional cost-of-living adjustments are calculated using a formula based on changes in private-sector wages and salaries as measured by the Employment Cost Index. Since this method began in 1990, Congress has accepted a raise 13 times and denied itself a pay increase seven times.