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Monday, October 03, 2005

Should Congress recieve a pay raise?

In a time of war, should Congress make a sacrifice not take a pay raise? Many people in Connecticut think they should so why are they still planning to take a pay raise?

From the Hartford Courant
Congress, many members say, needs a way to show constituents that in this time of war, hurricanes, energy price spikes and other ills it is listening and it cares.

So in the midst of trying to figure out how to pay for wars, hurricanes and energy, lawmakers are also tussling over symbolism: whether to forgo a 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase that members are due to receive next year.

"Let us send a signal to the American people that Congress gets it. A little belt-tightening wouldn't hurt anyone around here," said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, one of those leading this charge.

No, said Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, let us do the tough work and make the hard choices needed to provide enough money to Hurricane Katrina victims without making the federal deficit balloon.

"You want to talk about moral gestures - it's an immoral gesture not to have the nation's wealthiest 1 percent not to have to sacrifice," Larson said.

Cutting the $3,100 pay raise, which would leave most members' annual salaries at $162,100, would save only about $5 million over the next five years, a number that barely puts a nick in the hundreds of billions that wars and Katrina are costing.

But perception is the fuel that drives politics, and as John Hibbing, a congressional expert at the University of Nebraska put it, the pay raise dispute is "a beautiful issue" that constituents readily understand.

And so an unlikely coalition is working to get rid of the raise. Matheson's allies include not only Democrats, but members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, which included the salary freeze in its list of ways to pay for the hurricane relief effort.

The Connecticut delegation is divided over whether to delay the raise. Reps. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, and Nancy L. Johnson, R-5th District, like the idea. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, does not.

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, said the issue was moot with her. Since she came to Congress in 1991, she has devoted all pay increases to two scholarship funds, one named for her father, Ted, and another named for former staff member Maria Baez Perez. The funds give $1,000 stipends to college students from DeLauro's district.

DeLauro, Larson, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., would consider freezing their pay if it was part of a wide variety of spending cuts and tax increases. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., who said he also wanted a package of cuts, would not specifically discuss the raise.

"I believe in shared sacrifice," DeLauro said, "and shared sacrifice means repealing some of the tax cuts for the wealthy."

Opponents of a pay raise say Congress should take the first step by making the first sacrifice.

Simmons, said chief of staff Todd Mitchell, thought that "as long as working families are tightening their belts, members of Congress should do the same."

But Shays thought the flap was much ado about very little and stressed that the raise was the same kind of inflationary increase most American workers get.

"I don't know if it's an important symbol or not," he said, "but I believe in a cost-of-living increase."
Just something to remember when you go to vote next year...