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The co-sponsors of Matheson’s bill can cast a strategically wide net into Congressional subsets: McCaul and Rep. Steve Austria (Ohio) sit on the Republican Study Committee, while Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) is a member of the Tea Party Caucus. On the Democratic side, Matheson is a chief deputy Minority Whip and a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Rep. Gary Peters (Mich.) is part of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) is an appropriator who sits on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is also co-sponsoring the bill, which wouldn’t take effect until 2013.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has called for the elimination of automatic pay raises for the civilian federal workforce. McCaul questioned the wisdom of moving on Jordan’s legislation without ending Members’ cost-of-living adjustments.
“That kind of plays into that arrogance of, ‘We’re making everyone else do it, but we’re going to exempt ourselves,’” McCaul said.
Some Members would even cut lawmakers’ salaries. Just before Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured in a shooting Jan. 8, the Arizona Democrat proposed a 5 percent reduction. Rep. Morgan Griffith would go even further: The Virginia Republican is sponsoring a measure that would slash salaries by 10 percent.
The last time Members of Congress took pay cuts was during the Great Depression, when their salaries fell from $9,000 to $8,500 per year. The current yearly salary of rank-and-file Members is $174,000. Majority and minority leaders receive $193,400, and the Speaker takes in $223,500.
Matheson and other proponents of ending the automatic pay raises are fighting an uphill battle. Congress has already voted to go without a cost-of-living raise for this year, so there is little pressure to act now. Furthermore, House and Senate leaders have managed to keep such bills off the chambers’ floors for two decades, and Democrats and Republicans have had an off-and-on agreement to keep the issue out of campaign politics.
Vitter, in the meantime, has lost his most steadfast collaborator on the issue: Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) was defeated in his re-election bid in November.
Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado said the Republican has reached out to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who has previously supported ending the automatic pay raises. Webb’s office could not be reached for comment.