Bipartisan Group of Senators Seeks End to Automatic Pay Raise

Posted June 21, 2010 at 2:08pm

A bipartisan group of Senators asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday to take up legislation that would end Congress’ annual automatic pay raise.

In a letter to Pelosi, the Senators — led by Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — argue that ending the automatic system would save about $80 million over 10 years. Enacted in 1989, the raise is based on inflation and is usually somewhere between 2 and 3 percent.

Congress passed legislation to freeze Members’ salaries for 2010 and 2011, with lawmakers citing the economic downturn. But Members are less enthusiastic about canceling the automatic raise altogether; if such legislation passed, Members would have to take a politically risky vote for any raise in salary.

But the Senate passed such a bill last year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced the standalone bill to give Members cover to avoid voting for an identical amendment in the must-pass omnibus package. Since then, Reid’s bill has stalled, with House leaders giving no indication that they would move it to the floor.

But on Monday, Feingold and Grassley attempted to bring renewed focus to the issue in their letter to Pelosi. Freezing Members’ salaries for 2011 was an “important step,” they wrote, but “it is time to end a system that guarantees members a pay hike unless they act to block it.”

“The burden should be on members of Congress who believe they deserve a raise to pass legislation, not on those who want to block one,” they write in the letter. “Few of our constituents have the power to raise their own pay ­— Congress should exercise this power openly, on the record.”

The letter is co-signed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), David Vitter (R-La.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Olympia Snow (R-Maine), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Members currently make about $174,000, though House and Senate leaders are paid more. Pelosi, for example, has a salary of $223,500, while the Majority and Minority Leaders of both chambers get a salary of $193,400.