December 23, 2008

When Pigs Fly

H/T ARRA News Service: by Isaac MacMillen, contributing editor of ALG News Bureau: The 2008 deficit is already at a projected $1 trillion—with the potential to reach $1.5 trillion, if Congress passes the massive stimulus bill now under consideration. Jobless rates—and claims—continue to rise. Over 11,600 pork projects—costing upwards of $17 billion—were included in bills this year…

And Congress just ended the year by giving itself a 2.8 percent pay raise. The $4700/member raise would go into effect in January of 2009, raising the average congressional salary to $174,000. The raise is part of an automated process incorporated in a bill Congress passed in 1989. While some members of Congress sponsored legislation to stop the pay raise, it failed to gain enough support for passage. Concerned citizens of diverse organizations are decrying the raise, given the state of the nation’s economy and the performance (or lack thereof) of the members of Congress. The Senior Citizen League’s Daniel O’Connell spoke out against the hypocrisy of the raise. “As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executives to accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault for their own personal gain,” he stated in a press release by the organization.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) president Tom Schatz had even harsher criticism. "If Congressional leaders believe that the taxpayers should gives pay raises to this rogue's gallery of ineptitude and venality, they ought to step away from the spiked egg nog,” he stated, after saying that Congress didn’t deserve “one additional dime of taxpayer money in 2009.”
Both the Senior Citizen’s League and CAGW—among others—have called for Congress to freeze its pay. And there’s actually some (limited) precedence for such an act of conscience. Under intense pressure, lawmakers froze pay in 2000, and again (temporarily) in 2006.

Beyond the pay raise issue, however, this controversy reveals something deeper about Congress—their attempts to go out of the way to avoid blame for unpopular measures. In other words, unwillingness to take responsibility. If Congress truly wanted to be held accountable, they would vote each time they wanted a pay raise. If the people thought they performed well—a good source might be approval ratings—then they could consider a small raise. But if their performance is unpopular—and ineffective, as it is now—they have no business lining their own pockets after picking the nation’s.

Yet in spite of—or rather because of—this fact, Congress has attempted to shirk much of the blame that would arise had they actually voted on the pay raise. Vacationing members of Congress, besieged by enraged constituents, will be able to honestly say that they “did not vote for the pay raise.” While technically true, it would also true that they did nothing to stop it, but rather allowed it to happen unopposed. The few who attempted to repeal the 2008 raise should be commended, as well as those under the table and who voluntarily decline the pay raise. But the remainder—the majority—of Congress must know that it will be held responsible for its actions.

Once the American people see through their duplicity, they will reward their actions with something less flattering than a pay raise. Perhaps, if fairness ever asserts itself, Congress could even reduce its pay by the same percentage it exceeds its budgets. And, perhaps, pigs will one day fly.


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