Lawmakers seek to slash their salaries

House and Senate lawmakers are seeking to slash their salaries with bills seeking cuts ranging from 10 percent to all of their pay.

The bipartisan efforts come at a time when congressional approval ratings are near record lows.

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In a little more than one month since the 113th Congress convened, at least 16 bills have been introduced to downsize members’ paychecks.

The belt-tightening measures range in scope.

Some, such as Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) measure S. 65, would repeal the law that allows for an automatic lawmaker pay increases. There are several companion versions of the measure on the House side.

Others bills are more stringent, calling for decreases in salary as long as the federal government runs a budget deficit.

For example, GOP Reps. Morgan Griffith (Va.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) would require a 10 percent across the board cut for lawmakers, the vice president and the president.

“We as elected officials should show that solving America’s biggest challenge is personal to us, too. We’re past due for Congress and the White House to consider major reforms to our federal budget, but we can give those needed reforms a jumpstart by beginning with our own salaries,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement of her “Saving Starts with Us Act.”

House GOP Conference Vice-Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) introduced a harsher measure to decrease lawmaker’s salaries by 20 percent.

Jenkins’ “Congressional Pay Adjustment Act,” which has no co-sponsors, would “reduce the annual rates of pay for members of Congress by 20 percent, and to prohibit an adjustment in such rates during a year unless the federal government did not run a deficit in the previous fiscal year.”

According to a recent poll taken by the Rasmussen polling company, 81 percent of respondents want to see even deeper lawmaker pay cuts.

The poll, taken Jan. 19-20 of 1,000 likely voters, found that a majority of respondents said lawmakers should take a 25 percent pay cut until the budget is balanced.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, favor other approaches.

More popular bills include a version of the lawmaker pay cut provision that was included in the temporary debt limit extension, called “No Budget, No Pay.” The law states that members will not be paid if their respective chamber does not pass a budget resolution.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R) spearheaded a similar effort in his chamber, attracting 14 co-sponsors for the measure that would deny lawmaker pay after Oct. 1 — the start of the fiscal year — should Congress fail to pass a concurrent budget resolution and fail to pass the regular appropriations bills for the year ahead.

An identical version on the House side, sponsored by Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), has 59 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Dismal congressional approval ratings contribute to the spate of the pay cut measures, according to Claremont-McKenna political science professor Jack Pitney.

“Public approval of Congress is near historic lows so anything to cut their pay is going to be very popular,” Pitney said.

But cutting congressional salaries is a miniscule amount of savings in the entire budget, Pitney noted, adding that it’s less than likely these bills will be passed.

“None of this has anything to do with serious public policy. It's all about making a point rather than making a law,” Pitney said.

Furthermore, many members of Congress are wealthy so reducing their pay would not affect them significantly.

House members and Senators make $174,000 with the exception of the Speaker and other top leadership positions.

Congress has not increased its pay since 2009. The House and Senate included a provision in the fiscal cliff deal last month to overturn a late December executive order by President Obama that lifted a two-year federal pay freeze for members of Congress.

The Republican-led House this week will vote on a bill that would freeze Obama’s proposed pay hike for federal workers.

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