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Are Members of Congress Underpaid?

Monday April 21st, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 5:00am PDT   •  

Capital-bldg_200The current salary of a U.S. congressman is $174,000 a year, with party leaders in both houses bagging more. House Speaker John Boehner leads the pack with an annual salary of $223,500. The push is now on to increase congressional pay led by Rep. Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat, who laments that members of Congress are “underpaid” and that “a lot of members can’t even afford to live decently when they’re at their job in Washington.”

Some argue that Congressmen haven’t had a raise in while and that salaries are at their lowest levels since 1990 when one accounts for inflation. Promoters of a pay raise argue that this perpetuates a political culture where mostly the rich can afford to serve in office. A cost-of-living adjustment of 1.6 percent is set for January 2015. That would boost annual pay by $2800, so does Rep. Moran have a case?

With economic growth at a paltry 2.4 percent for the last quarter of 2013, it’s hard to argue that booming times warrant the increase. Moran argues that members of Congress are the “board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” But Moran also says that “it’s widely felt that they underperform,” and one notes that the pay raise is not tied to any performance measure. Nobody is talking about tying a pay raise to an increase in government accountability, transparency, the trimming of waste, or the elimination of redundant bureaucracies.

Members of Congress supposedly deserve a raise because it is expense to serve in Washington. Actually, when one “serves” the salary is not the major consideration. If an annual $174,000, plus generous benefits, is not enough, people should decline to run for Congress and do something else.

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, contends that “It makes no sense for Congress to continue automatically receiving annual raises without having to publicly vote on it.” That might have some merit but nobody is talking about embattled American workers having a vote on the issue. For American workers a congressional pay raise is more evidence that the federal government always gets bigger, more expensive, and more resistant to reform.

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April 2014