Iâ€™ll admit that the title of this piece is a loaded question. Nobody except the members of Congress themselves ever think that they deserve a raise, but yet they have decided to give themselves a cost of living adjustment of $4,460 each. On the surface $4,460 doesnâ€™t seem like much money, but the total cost of this COLA adjustment to the American taxpayer will be $1,940,100. To put this number into even more context consider that a person making the federal minimum wage, who is lucky enough to get 35 hours a week, because employers who pay minimum never give 40 hours a week because if they did they would have to pay benefits, will earn in 6 months before taxes $4,685.50.
House members claim that they need the raise to keep up with inflation, which is an odd argument for Republicans to make because they have consistently fought against COLA increases for people on Social Security. The really sneaky part is how this increase was carried out. The leadership of both parties worked out an agreement where they would equally deliver a majority of their membership in favor of the bill. They used this move to pass the increase without an on the record up or down vote. The Democrats blocked the COLA increased last year, and said that they would not accept one until the minimum wage was increased. They got their minimum wage increase by caving in to President Bush on the Iraq funding bill, so they now see themselves as now free to put their hands back in the cookie jar.
On Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans voted down a bipartisan bill by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that would have required an up or down vote on blocking the COLA increase. The vote was 181-244. “I don’t think this is the right time for members of Congress to be allowing the pay raise to go through without even an up-or-down vote. We need to show the American people we are willing to make some sacrifices … that we recognize there’s a struggle for some in today’s economy,” said Rep. Matheson. I donâ€™t have a big problem with the increase as much as I do the way that they did it. Why are they so afraid of an up or down, on the record vote? I think the taxpayers deserve to know who voted themselves a COLA increase, and who didnâ€™t. In my eyes, this is a matter of honesty and integrity towards the people who elected you to serve.
Many of the members who voted for this increase has in the past quietly try to kill COLA increases for other government employees, who donâ€™t make as much money, and donâ€™t have the ability to vote themselves a pay raise. Until the war forced them to, both Democrats and Republicans routinely balked at giving military personnel a COLA increase, and previous administrations have frozen the COLA increase for Social Security recipients. My point is if the COLA increase is important for House members, it means even more to those people who have even less money, and are being stretched thin by high gas prices and inflation. Those who supported this should be ashamed of themselves for doing an end around the democratic process for a measly $4,460.
Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com. Â His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics