Editorial: Hold Congress accountable on salary hikes

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Congress pulled a fast one on the people two decades ago when it decided to provide itself with annual raises via an option called “cost-of-living adjustments.” That guaranteed lawmakers a salary increase every year whether they deserved it or not.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wants to change that. He has proposed the annual increases be abolished in favor of a congressional vote on any proposed pay raise.

While providing anyone the option to raise their own pay sounds like risky business, it’s the better way to go. Congress is required by the Constitution to determine its own pay and, since 1789, the procedure used most often was to vote on it.

Other options later became available, including the annual adjustment, a procedure changed by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. It’s based on a formula using changes in private-sector wages and salaries as measured by the Employment Cost Index.

The annual adjustment is automatic unless Congress votes to give it up, which they did for 2010.

But they did pocket the $4,700 increase this year, despite attempts to stop it, such as the Stop the Congressional Pay Raise Act (H.R.156) introduced by Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Sen. Vitter’s proposal would stop the cost-of-living increases permanently. Instead, pay increases would revert to the process whereby members must vote to raise their pay through stand-alone legislation.

That’s not perfect, but it’s better. Requiring legislators to vote on their own pay raise would hold them accountable in the eyes of the taxpayers — and voters.

At a time when millions of Americans are feeling their way through a bleak economy, accountability in Washington is something we all must insist on. Contact your representatives and tell them so.

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