The big question swirling around Washington this past week wasn’t about the next possible bailout and who is going to benefit from it.
What taxpayer watchdogs want to know now is this: Will the 435 U. S. representatives and 100 U.S. senators accept their 2009 pay raises that automatically go into effect?
Because most members of Congress are silent on this issue, I’ll translate: You betcha.
When local Reps. Paul Kanjorski and Chris Carney, both Democrats, were pressed on the question of whether they would accept their raises, they ordered their spokeswomen to e-mail a statement. Their answer wasn’t clear and the pay raises went into effect three days ago.
Translation: They’ve already figured out how they’re going to spend the extra $4,700 a year.
And in Northeastern Pennsylvania, that translates into a mighty fine chunk of change.
It’s bad enough that the 535 men and women who claim to represent us are throwing around billions in bailout money – our tax dollars, mind you – to anyone who comes before them with hat in hand. Now, while the rest of the country pinches pennies and thousands are added to the unemployment rolls, they’re shamelessly giving themselves a 2.8 percent pay hike. That’s $174,000 annually for most of them.
The sneakiest part is that they don’t have to actually vote themselves a raise. They designed a method to automatically raise their salaries without even having to vote. It’s a cost-of-living mechanism that takes effect every year. I think I’d admire them a tad bit more if they actually had to say “aye” when asked if they should get a pay boost. (Who says the C-SPAN cameras haven’t made them more conscious of us?)
But there is a way out. They can always vote to refuse the raise – at least until the economy takes a turn for the better. It’s the least they can do while many of their constituents struggle to put food on the table.
I found parts of the Kanjorski and Carney comments on the topic a bit amusing. Kanjorski noted that all other federal employees are receiving 3.9-percent raises this year while members of Congress are only getting 2.8 percent, or, in his words “significantly less.”
Wrong answer. Pointing out that others are getting bigger raises – percentage-wise – won’t get you any pity points because your raise is “only” $4,700.
And Carney, who through his spokeswoman said he hasn’t made a decision regarding the money, pointed out that he donated last year’s salary increase to the Northeast Cancer Institute.
Wrong answer again. That’s a wimpy way out. You either oppose the raise, in principle, or you don’t.
If Mr. Carney wants to donate to charity, let him do it. If he doesn’t want the pay increase then let him be gutsy enough to stand up on the floor of the House of Representatives and call for a vote to rescind the raise. This isn’t a question of finding a noble way to use the money. It’s a question of public funding and what sacrifices our elected officials should be making to us, the taxpayers. If Carney gives his $4,700 to charity, the taxpayers are still out that $4,700.
Only a few members of Congress have already announced they will not accept a pay increase. Some said they would vote to block the raise if a vote is permitted.
As for me, I have only one burning question – the same one that politicians toss around whenever someone raises the issue of giving hard-working Americans a break by cutting taxes: How are we going to pay for it?