Should Congress Slash Their Six Figure Salaries?

Posted: Feb 10, 2013 12:30 PM

It’s a well-established fact that members of Congress more often than not leave Washington far richer than when they arrived. (Just look at how Harry Reid made his money, for example). But at a time of such high unemployment and trillion dollar-plus deficits, should members of Congress really be making $174,000 a year? Perhaps they should. But while this never-ending debate rages on, it’s comforting to know that at least some Congressional lawmakers (mostly Republicans, it seems) recognize the glaring disconnect between Washington’s rich and famous and the average working American. And, to their credit, they are trying to do something about it (via The Hill):

House and Senate lawmakers are seeking to slash their salaries with bills seeking cuts ranging from 10 percent to all of their pay.

The bipartisan efforts come at a time when congressional approval ratings are near record lows.

In a little more than one month since the 113th Congress convened, at least 16 bills have been introduced to downsize members’ paychecks.

The belt-tightening measures range in scope.

Some, such as Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) measure S. 65, would repeal the law that allows for an automatic lawmaker pay increases. There are several companion versions of the measure on the House side.

Others bills are more stringent, calling for decreases in salary as long as the federal government runs a budget deficit.

For example, GOP Reps. Morgan Griffith (Va.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) would require a 10 percent across the board cut for lawmakers, the vice president and the president.

“We as elected officials should show that solving America’s biggest challenge is personal to us, too. We’re past due for Congress and the White House to consider major reforms to our federal budget, but we can give those needed reforms a jumpstart by beginning with our own salaries,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement of her “Saving Starts with Us Act.”

House GOP Conference Vice-Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) introduced a harsher measure to decrease lawmaker’s salaries by 20 percent.

Jenkins’ “Congressional Pay Adjustment Act,” which has no co-sponsors, would “reduce the annual rates of pay for members of Congress by 20 percent, and to prohibit an adjustment in such rates during a year unless the federal government did not run a deficit in the previous fiscal year.”

To be clear: I am very much in favor of Senators and Representatives collecting paychecks. The Founders were explicit on this point: if lawmakers didn’t get paid, only “the rich” (I’m borrowing a line from the president here) would be able to serve (and stay) in high federal office. And that would have disturbing implications for a country unambiguously founded on the principle of self-government.

But in any case, how -- might you ask -- does the public at large feel about cutting Congress’ salaries? In short, they love the idea:

According to a recent poll taken by the Rasmussen polling company, 81 percent of respondents want to see even deeper lawmaker pay cuts.

The poll, taken Jan. 19-20 of 1,000 likely voters, found that a majority of respondents said lawmakers should take a 25 percent pay cut until the budget is balanced.

Of course, just like the president’s recent tax hikes, slashing congressional salaries will neither begin reducing the deficit (in any meaningful way) nor get our fiscal house in order. That said, members of Congress clearly aren’t doing their jobs (Democrats in the Senate haven’t passed a budget in almost four years) and yet are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, while so many hard working middle class Americans (who actually pay their salaries) are struggling to make ends meet.

Perhaps we should lobby Congress to cut their salaries not simply because they make too much money, but because they haven’t earned them. That seems pretty reasonable to me ... don't you think?

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