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Some in Congress say they oppose annual raise

July 26, 2002|by DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito says she opposes a pay raise for members of Congress, but she thinks her chance to stop it has passed.

"In a national emergency and tough economic times I oppose a congressional pay raise," said Capito, R-W.Va.

If the raise goes through, rank-and-file members of the Senate and House of Representatives would be paid about $5,000 more beginning in January, which would bring their annual salaries to about $155,000.

Under a 1989 law, members of Congress automatically get a raise unless lawmakers vote to block it.

Congressional raises traditionally come up for discussion during debate on the annual spending bill for the Treasury Department and related agencies. But a 258-156 procedural vote at the beginning of that debate prevented lawmakers from offering an amendment to kill the raise.

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Capito and fellow representatives Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Bill Shuster, R-Pa., were on the losing end of that procedural vote.

Capito said she also voted against the Treasury appropriations bill because it includes money for a raise, but found herself in the minority again.

"To my understanding, there are no other avenues (in the House) to strip the pay raise," Capito said.

Capito wouldn't say whether she would accept the raise if re-elected to Congress.

Capito said it is "premature to talk about something" she would not receive unless re-elected.

Bartlett, Shuster, and senators Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., did not return telephone messages seeking comment for this story. The messages were left with their staff Wednesday and Thursday.

Some congressional staff did comment on the issue.

When asked if Sarbanes supported the congressional raises, Sarbanes' press secretary, Jesse Jacobs, said the senator "supports the cost-of-living adjustment."

Rockefeller's press secretary, Mark Ferrell, said he didn't think Rockefeller would offer an amendment to kill the raise. Ferrell said in the past Rockefeller has donated his congressional raises to charity.

Shuster's press secretary, Angelo Terrana, said Shuster would vote against the raise if given the opportunity.

Terrana said he did not know whether Shuster would accept the raise.

Bartlett's press secretary, Lisa Wright, said Bartlett indirectly voted against the cost-of-living adjustment when he voted against limiting amendments to the Treasury bill. She did not know whether Bartlett would accept the raise.

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications at the non-profit National Taxpayers Union, said the House procedural vote on the Treasury bill was the best opportunity for House members to kill the raise. But he said there are still chances for members in both chambers to bring the raise up for a vote.

Sepp sent a letter to all members of Congress on Wednesday and Thursday urging them to reject the raise for 2003.

"The economic conditions combined with the public trust in government on the decline ... both mean Congress can not afford to do this economically or politically," he said.

"This would be the fourth straight year with a raise for Congress at a time when the rest of America is suffering economically," Sepp said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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