Senate to Vote on Proposal to Eliminate Cost-of-Living Pay Raises for Congress
March 6, 2009Members of Congress would lose their annual cost-of-living pay raises under a proposal that's headed for a vote in the Senate next week.
The move, by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would require Congress to vote itself pay raises rather than get them automatically under a two-decades-old ethics bill that gave the annual raises, known as a cost-of-living adjustment or COLA, but required lawmakers to give up paid speeches called honoraria.
Vitter, who faces a potentially difficult re-election next year, has seized a potent issue with voters. But he's not winning any popularity contests with his colleagues.
"In this tough economy when many people are making sacrifices, it's time that the Congress quit ... trying to quietly give itself a raise," Vitter said in a statement.
His move has put congressional leaders, who generally support the system, in a difficult spot. If he's successful, a pay system that has had solid backing from leaders in both parties - GOP icon Newt Gingrich was a key supporter back in 1989 - will be in shambles.
Most members support the pay raise as a means of retaining experienced lawmakers and of making sure that Congress is not simply dominated by wealthy people. Many lawmakers maintain homes both in the expensive Washington housing market and back in their districts. On most days, they meet with lobbyists making far more than they do.
Lawmakers have already opted against taking the raise that they're due next Jan. 1 - the first day of an election year - adding language to an omnibus spending bill pending in the Senate to turn off the COLA for 2010. Vitter's amendment would turn it off permanently, but is expected to be defeated on a bipartisan vote.
Lawmakers are going ahead and pocketing the $5,000 salary increase they got at the beginning of this year to raise their salaries to $174,000.
Vitter's amendment is getting a vote after Republicans Thursday night successfully blocked a Democratic effort to close debate on the omnibus bill. Republicans were unhappy that they were only allowed to offer a handful of amendments.
On most years, a vote on the the COLA comes on an obscure procedural move - instead of a direct up-or-down vote - and Democratic and GOP leaders each have delivered a majority of their members to shut off the move to block the pay hike.
But fewer and fewer "old school" members remain in Congress and the increasingly bitter partisanship has eroded a truce that used to exist between the parties on the issue. House Democrats used the issue when taking control in the 2006 elections by running ads against those who support the system.
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