Congress could get a pay raise

June 14, 1997


Staff Writer

Members of the U.S. Congress could soon get a raise in their salaries - and they don't have to cast a single vote to get the extra cash.

Unless legislation is passed to block the raise, congressional pay will automatically jump from $133,600 to $137,340, a 2.8 percent hike, starting in July as part of a cost-of-living adjustment approved in 1989.

Some congressional leaders have said they support the raise - which would be the first for Congress since 1993 - but many public-interest groups and others have voiced loud opposition to the plan.


"Members of Congress have got to stop trying to pocket benefits like a 15-year-old with free use of mother's credit card," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, a Capitol Hill watchdog group.

Of the nine Senators and House members who represent the Tri-State area, four responded to inquiries about their positions on the pay increase issue. Of that group, only U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., expressed any opinion on the matter.

Bartlett, through a spokeswoman, said he would likely vote in favor of any legislation introduced to block the pay raise. The Western Maryland representative is also pushing for restructuring the congressional pay scale so that it is based on merit, said press secretary Lisa Wright.

Wright said Bartlett would prefer that pay raises be based on Congress' efforts to reduce the budget deficit. If the deficit reduction targets are being met, then there should be raises, she said.

"If they are doing their jobs, then members of Congress deserve to get a (cost-of-living adjustment)," Wright said.

Bartlett could introduce legislation in support of merit pay within a month, said deputy press secretary Sally Taylor.

The other Tri-State area senators and House members said they did not want to take a position on the issue until they see the various pieces of legislation affecting the pay raise.

But a possible pay hike is already drawing fire from a broad spectrum of conservative and liberal critics. Last week a coalition of eight public-interest groups sent a letter to congressional leaders, urging that salaries not be increased.

"Members of Congress are paid too much ... . One small step towards restoring humility and moral authority to our Congress would be to forsake this inappropriate pay raise," the letter said.

Another critic, the Libertarian Party, has said the raise would have members of Congress making $822 a day, based on the 167 legislative days the House worked last year.

"This latest congressional pay heist is an insult to taxpayers," said Libertarian Chairman Steve Dasbach in a written statement. "If this raise goes through, politicians will be making nearly four times the median income of American families."

Congress received similar criticism in 1989 when it approved legislation that boosted salaries from $89,500 to $120,800 over a two-year period and started cost-of-living raises for each subsequent year.

Public pressure against congressional raises has led to members blocking the automatic raises every year since 1993.

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