Lawmakers seek to freeze paychecks, put end to automatic salary raises

Lawmakers have introduced nearly 20 pieces of legislation this Congress to try and slash or freeze their own paychecks for 2013. 

Attacks on their six-figure salaries have become increasingly popular in recent years, as members face the wrath of constituents dissatisfied with the state of the economy and often plagued by personal financial challenges themselves. 

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“In this economy, Americans across the country are out of work, and those who are working are certainly not getting annual raises,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has proposed one of the measures that would do away with automatic pay increases for lawmakers.

“There’s no reason Congress should be getting a pay raise each year.  We hear a lot of talk about cutting back, and the automatic pay raises should be the first item on the chopping block,” she said.

With heated discussions under way on whether to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, several lawmakers have introduced bills that would nix any congressional increase in pay for every year that the government runs a deficit.

“With a budget deficit of nearly $1.5 trillion this year, it is clear that Congress is not doing its job to reduce spending and should not get a pay increase,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who has introduced such a no-raise measure.

The House and Senate have frozen their salaries for 2011 and 2012 at $174,000 — with majority and minority leaders each making $193,400 per year, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earning $223,500. 

But pay raises for 2013 are still in order. Lawmakers have put forward 18 bills so far this year in an attempt to change the law that grants them an automatic pay raise, strip the salary bump they’re slated to get after next year’s general elections or slash their pay.

Members of Congress, under current law, automatically receive a cost-of-living pay adjustment each year unless they vote against it, as they’ve done each year since 2010. 

Pete Sepp, the executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, said the deficit talks have spurred members to step up their focus on the issue. It also shows voters that lawmakers recognize what others are going through. 

“Nothing says leadership by example [better] than actually sponsoring your own bill affecting congressional pay rather than getting on someone else’s, which is why you see such a plethora of legislation,” Sepp said.

Two Democrats — McCaskill and Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) — and three Republicans — Reps. Todd Platts (Pa.) and Bob Latta (Ohio) and Sen. David Vitter (La.) — have put forward separate bills that would do away with the automatic pay increase process and force Congress to vote to increase its pay. 

One of the leading proponents of cutting the pay of members is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who introduced one of the most popular measures, with 18 co-sponsors, that would slash the paychecks of members by 5 percent, or $8,700, in 2013. 

“As our economy continues to struggle to regain its footing, Congress should set an example, and there’s no better way to do that than by cutting their own salaries,” said C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords, who is still recovering from gunshot wounds received in a January assassination attempt.  

If Giffords’s bill is signed into law, it would save taxpayers more than $4.6 million in 2013 and would be the first time Congress has taken a pay cut in 78 years — the last time being in the midst of the Great Depression on April 1, 1933, when members cut pay by about $5,000, or 5 percent.

 Three members have taken Giffords’s approach one step further and are proposing to cut the pay of lawmakers in 2013 by 10 percent, or $17,400, which would save taxpayers more than $9.3 million. 

“While we’re looking to save the taxpayers’ money, we shouldn’t look past our own salaries,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), whose bill would also slash the pay of the president and vice president by 10 percent, or $40,000, in 2013. 

“I know a 10 percent cut in our salaries won’t make a big dent on our deficit. But we’ve already voted to remove billions from the budget without cutting one dime from our own paychecks. That’s not fair,” Beutler said.

Freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) has sponsored one of the more unique bills which would direct the Treasury secretary to put the paychecks of lawmakers in an escrow account until Congress passed its appropriations bills, if it misses the fiscal-year deadline. Hultgren’s measure would also reduce the salary of every lawmaker by 25 percent, or $43,500, if Congress begins its session without first passing the appropriations bills. 

Lawmakers could find it tough to vote against either measure, given the continued struggle of the economy as well as pledges by the new House Republican majority to cut spending.

The last pay increase members received was in 2009, when they got a 2.8 percent raise, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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