House votes down automatic pay raise

The House followed the Senate’s lead Tuesday and voted to block its automatic pay raise as it heads into a highly contested election season.

The move marks the third consecutive year lawmakers have voted to halt their automatic cost-of-living increase. The law governing congressional pay raises requires members to vote against getting a raise. Otherwise, the raise takes effect automatically.

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With Congress’s approval ratings spiraling downward, criticism of government bailouts running rampant and unemployment hovering at 10 percent, a cost-of-living pay increase for lawmakers has become largely unpopular, and many members have pushed for more long-term halts to their pay, with some actually wanting to cut their salaries.

Last week Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) led the Senate’s charge in rescinding the pay raise, saying that Americans continued to be in financial peril and Congress should not receive a bump in pay in such an economic state.

The House’s move was launched on Monday evening as leaders added the bill to Tuesday’s calendar under rules that prevented amendments and required a two-thirds vote for passage. It passed 402-15. The Senate passed its measure unanimously without a roll-call vote.

Among those who voted against the House measure was Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

Thirteen of the 15 House Democrats who voted no were members of the CBC, including CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

“Congresswoman Lee has consistently voted in favor of cost-of-living increases for federal workers,” said Lee’s spokeswoman, Nicole Williams.

Fellow CBC member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) also voted against the measure, but meant to vote yes. Her spokeswoman said the “no” vote was “an honest mistake” and that she has taken the appropriate action to correct her vote for the Congressional Record.

Clyburn’s office did not return a request for comment by press time.

The House bill now goes back to the Senate for approval. It is expected to pass and then it will go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The base pay for House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, though leaders earn a higher salary. The cost-of-living increase would have given lawmakers a $1,600 raise in 2011. By rescinding the increase, lawmakers saved taxpayers $850,000 for next year.

Feingold lauded the House’s passage of Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Jim Matheson’s (D-Utah) bill on Tuesday, but said that he would continue to push to eliminate the automatic pay raise system that is in place.

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 on seven occasions.

The House voted not to give itself a raise for 2009 and 2010. By rescinding the $2,610 salary increase for each member that would have gone into effect this year (a 1.5 percent pay increase above current salaries), lawmakers saved taxpayers more than $1.4 million.

Another $2.5 million was saved by preventing the $4,700 increase for each member from going into effect in 2009.

In 2008, members did not opt to rescind their pay and received a $4,100 increase, or 2.5 percent, amounting to more than $2.2 million.

In 2009, more than a dozen members put forward measures that would have rescinded their automatic pay raise for 2010 or required members to vote for their pay raise. And more than a dozen members put forward similar measures blocking 2011’s pay.

Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Mitchell led that charge, while former Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), when he was still a member, pushed to cut lawmakers’ pay each year the government runs a deficit.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) sponsored a bill that would take it one step further and cut congressional pay by $8,700 next year on top of denying members their automatic cost-of-living increase.

And Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to scrap the automatic cost-of-living system altogether and establish an independent commission to assess possible pay raises, which would then be subject to an up-or-down vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) makes $223,500, and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) makes $193,400.