Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The members of Congress have decided to forgo a pay raise next year.
And while the gesture is mostly symbolic -- and political -- it is nevertheless appropriate.
Across this nation a great many people have had to do without pay raises, some for two years or more. The nation's economy, while on the verge of a recovery, has been in the tank. Millions of jobs have been lost and wages have been frozen in the private and public sectors as a way to avoid even more layoffs.
Congress, of course, doesn't have to worry about layoffs for economic reasons, but the November election is a concern. Members of the House and Senate don't want to further anger those who have gone without pay raises -- or who don't have jobs.
It's likely the majority of those who voted to forgo the 0.9 percent cost-of-living wage increase (an additional $1,600 on their $174,000 annual salary) had at least one eye on their re-election.
But not everyone in Congress favored the wage freeze. The Senate rejected the increase in a voice vote, and the House of Representatives followed by saying no to more dough with a 402-15 vote.
"It's a political maneuver," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who voted against it. "I apply the same standard to myself that I do for others. If you were due for a cost-of-living increase, you should get it."
Really? What alternative universe is Watt living in?
Over the past year or so a great many Americans who were due cost-of-living increases didn't receive them out of economic necessity. The money just wasn't there.
Sometimes workers -- in private business and the government -- have to make short-term adjustments for the long-term well being of the organization. They have to make a sacrifice today to ensure they have a job tomorrow.
Sadly, some labor unions -- including those representing some Washington state government employees -- follow Watt's reasoning. Apparently it is better to put folks out of work than to deny those who have a job a pay raise.
We would disagree. And so, too, would those who are unemployed.
Again, we understand the pay issue in Congress is symbolic. Most of those serving in Congress were wealthy before they were elected and don't need the money. While about 1 percent of Americans are considered millionaires, 44 percent of members of Congress were in that category, McClatchy newspapers reported. Of the 535 members of Congress, 50 are worth $10 million or more.
Still, it is necessary and important to pay those in Congress a fair and reasonable wage so those of modest means can afford to serve. Congress should not be reserved for only the rich. Given that, the current salary of $174,000 is acceptable.
And for those members of Congress who need the salary to pay the mortgage and buy food, the loss of the cost-of-living increase will hurt a little. For them, this action goes beyond symbolic. Good. Maybe they can convey to their colleagues what much of the nation feels, which should make them all better lawmakers.