No pay raise for Congress in 2011

A bill nixing Congress' automatic 2011 pay raise was signed into law on Friday by President Barack Obama.

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.

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

Last month the House passed Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Jim Matheson’s (D-Utah) bill, while Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) led the charge to halt the pay increase in the upper chamber.

“To raise congressional pay at a time when so many families are still struggling to make ends meet would be unconscionable and glaringly out of touch,” said Mitchell in a statement on Friday after the measure was signed into law.

“This sends an important message,” he said. “The American people are not getting a raise this year and neither should Congress.”

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.

Several watchdog groups heralded the move on Friday, saying that it sends a message to voters, lobbyists and special interest groups that Congress is trying to reel in its fiscally irresponsible habits.

“The way members of Congress spend on themselves reflects how they spend on other programs, so this law is one step toward restoring the confidence of taxpayers in the budget process,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.

“Not only will special interests now have even less of an excuse to complain about much-needed cuts to their pet projects, the people who pay government's bills will know that their lawmakers are ready to make a personal contribution toward getting the deficit back under control.”

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 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.

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 members of Congress received an increase of $4,700 each, costing taxpayers about $2.5 million. 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.