End automatic pay raises for Congress now

The members of Congress should vote on pay raises that would take effect following the next election.

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The members of Congress -- like all public officials -- deserve reasonable compensation.

Yet, deciding what's reasonable or fair can be politically treacherous for those in public office. They are often the ones who are legally authorized to make the decisions about their own pay.

Over two decades ago Congress opted to take this hot potato out of play by making its pay raises automatic. Since 1989, the year this automatic raise went into effect, the compensation for Congress has nearly doubled. It's now $174,000 a year.

The pay for Congress, assuming its members are doing a good job, isn't out of line for the responsibility.

But lawmakers are now coming under fire for their pay because the nation's economy is still gasping in the wake of the Great Recession. A lot of folks don't have jobs and a whole lot more have now gone years without a pay raise.

The automatic raise for representatives and senators isn't going to endear them to constituents still feeling the sting of a lousy economy.

This has prompted members of Congress to take action to either cut their pay or end the practice of automatic pay raises. Congress has not received a pay raise for the past two years as members have voted not to allow the pay hike to be enacted.

Even so, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has suggested a 5 percent pay cut while Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., wants to slash the salary by 10 percent. So far, seven pay-related proposals have been introduced.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is backing a plan to simply end the automatic pay raise. Over two dozen senators from both parties are on board with ending the automatic pay raises.

If members of Congress think they deserve a raise, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, "they should have the guts to vote publicly for it."

We believe making the change is a wise move.

A better system is for the members of Congress to openly discuss pay raises that would take effect after the next election. In that way the member is not necessarily approving his or her pay raise but the pay for the person who is elected to Congress to hold that seat. This gives the voters the chances, if they are outraged by the pay raise, to vote accordingly.

This is how it's done at various state and local governments, including Walla Walla County.

Washington state officials have their pay set by an independent commission established by the voters. We've never been thrilled with the concept as these commissioners are not accountable to the taxpayers who are footing the bill for these salaries.

Still, it's a better system than an automatic pay raise in which the economic climate isn't considered.

Having Congress take a vote and have to defend its stand is the best approach to setting congressional salaries.

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