Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Congress Cuts Its Own Pay - sort of

I recently wrote about Utah legislators cutting their own pay by 10%. Congress has gotten the message that something like that would be a politically savvy move, given the current state of the economy (see SL-Trib article). Congress is opting to forego its automatic annual pay raise next year. (That won’t stop them from otherwise spending taxpayer money like drunken sailors.)

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) has long been an opponent of Congress’ automatic pay increase. Every term since coming to office he has introduced legislation that would do away with this “secretive pay system” in favor of an actual public person-by-person vote on the matter. This, he says, would introduce true accountability, because constituents would know how each federal legislator voted on the matter. And every term (regardless of which party has been in control), Matheson’s proposal has been panned.

The fact that Congress isn’t going to take the automatic increase for one year doesn’t mean that Matheson’s perennial proposal has gained any ground among his congressional colleagues. Most of them see the current measure as a way to bolster their political standing with voters. Few of them are interested in actually being accountable for setting their own pay.

Still, Matheson persists. Each time he receives an automatic pay raise, he donates the increase to charity that year. Even this is somewhat of a political stunt, because he keeps that amount the following year, meaning that he is perpetually one year behind his colleagues on the congressional pay scale. But each year he does put his money where his mouth is. This year, it cost him $4,700.

It would be wonderful if Matheson’s vote-for-each-raise proposal were to actually get some serious consideration. Perhaps it would be a good idea to make a candidate’s support of this concept one of the criteria we use when deciding whether she/he deserves our support or not.


y-intercept said...

The move is politically savvy and it helps in the self-righteous attacks against CEOs.

The stange thing is that this praxis is at odds with the fundamentals of a stimulous package. The whole stimulus thing is premised on the idea that the government must create an artificial jolt of spending to stop the economic funk.

Instead they are giving us mixed message about how we must all cut back to make the artificial spending spree work.

The wiser move would have been to cut future pay.

As for Matheson's plan: The two problems I see with regular votes on pay increases is that politicians will use the events to grandstand (as they are doing now). Pay raises make a lot of noise but is not really that substantive of an issue. The second problem is that the periodic votes on pay simply provide yet another opportunity to stuff bills with pork and earmarks.

David said...

Congressional pay raises don't make a dent in the economy. I'm glad they decided to take a pass this year but I'm not fooled - it's a stunt from a bunch of people who can afford it.

I hope Mathesons's bill does gain traction and any candidate who would support that bill would go a long way towards receiving my support. (I won't let that trump all other issues, but I would weight it heavily.)

Reach Upward said...

Congress used to take an up or down vote on raising its own pay. There was no pork in it. You either voted for or against (or present on) the pay raise. Whichever way you voted, you were on record. This provided a significant disincentive for federal legislators to vote yes.

While it is true that congressional pay amounts to virtually nothing when measured against the entire federal budget, it is symbolic of the attitudes toward federal spending.

Similarly, all earmarks together amount to only a small portion of federal spending, but they are like the tip of the iceberg. The earmark factory demonstrates everything that is wrong about our federal house fiscally.

If these little things are done right, there's a better chance that the big things will be done better.