Congress Votes Self $3,100 Pay Raise
Congress gave themselves a pay raise–or, technically, voted not to block an automatic pay raise–before going home for a long Thanksgiving holiday.
The Republican-controlled Congress helped itself to a $3,100 pay raise on Friday, then postponed work on bills to curb spending on social programs and cut taxes in favor of a two-week vacation.
The cost-of-living increase for members of Congress Ã¢€” which will put pay for the rank and file at an estimated $165,200 a year Ã¢€” marked a brief truce in the pitched political battles that have flared in recent weeks on the war and domestic issues. So much so that the issue was not mentioned on the floor of either the House or Senate as lawmakers worked on legislation whose passage will assure bigger paychecks.
Lawmakers automatically receive a cost of living increase each year, unless Congress votes to block it. By tradition, critics have tried to block increases by attaching a provision to the legislation that provides funding for the Treasury Department. One such attempt succeeded in the Senate earlier in the year, but the provision was omitted from the compromise measure moved toward final approval.
I’ve never been particularly concerned about Congressional pay increases, even though this is an issue that causes great public outrage every year. $162,500 is not a huge salary given the level of responsibility of a Member of Congress; certainly, most of them could earn more outside of government.
On its face, though, an annual raise seems unconstitutional. The 27th Amendment states,
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Wikipedia provides the answer:
Since its 1992 adoption, however, this amendment has not hindered Congress from receiving nearly annual pay raises, characterized as “cost of living adjustments” (COLAs) rather than as pay raises in the traditional sense of the term. The Federal courts have ruled in cases brought under the amendment that a COLA is not the same thing as a pay raise. Hence, members of Congress have been able to enjoy increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions which this amendment seeks to impose. It should be pointed out that it is Congress which determines whether Federal judges will receive an increase in their salaries, the only restriction being that Congress is forbidden to ever reduce judicial compensation. Additionally, retirement benefits of Federal judges are linked with those of members of Congress.
It seems highly unlikely that the federal courts will rule against these COLAs at the cost of their own pay raises.
The strange part of the process, really, is that Congress does not simply have an across-the-board COLA that would affect all federal employees and pensioners equally. Instead, they play political games and give larger pay raises to, say, the military than, say, federal civil service employees. This, in turn, belies the argument that they are COLAs at all since, presumably, the cost of living goes up evenly for people living in a giving region.