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Senate votes to scrap annual raise

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POSTED: March 17, 2009 7:50 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Tuesday voted to scrap the system that awards members of Congress an automatic cost-of-living pay raise every year.

The Senate's move to abandon the annual pay increase came on a voice vote, but it doesn't mean that the pay raise is dead. Earlier Tuesday, the No. 2 Democrat in the House came out in opposition to the bill.

"I'm not for it, so I'm not going to commit to bringing it to the floor," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Still, with the economy in a recession, pressure is certain to build on the House to vote on the measure.

"Especially in this hour of economic crisis, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans would agree that we should end this practice of automatic adjustments," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Congress has raised its own pay in stand-alone bills more than two dozen times, according to the Congressional Research Service. But in 1989, it passed a law providing for annual cost-of-living adjustments unless Congress votes otherwise.

At the time, the idea was to avoid politically difficult votes every few years on larger raises.

Until Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week abandoned the current system of automatic raises, congressional leaders in both parties had stood behind it. Lawmakers say the system helps make sure that Congress is not dominated by wealthy people. They often meet with lobbyists making far more than they do.

Lawmakers voted to skip their annual pay raises for several years in the 1990s and in 2007. They voted to forego next year's pay increase because of the recession.

Their latest pay raise of $4,700 took effect in January and brought congressional salaries to $174,000.

In the Senate, Tuesday's action was orchestrated by Reid, who followed through on a pledge to bring the measure up as soon as possible after working to kill the idea last week in a battle with Louisiana Republican David Vitter.

The battle between Vitter and Reid centered on whether the pay raise issue should have been resolved in an omnibus spending bill. Reid said no, arguing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had announced that the House wouldn't accept any changes to the spending bill and that adding the provision would have killed it.

Last week, Vitter argued that the House would never take up the freestanding measure to kill the pay raise. But on Tuesday, he said pressure from voters could do the trick.

"The House leadership has made clear that they don't want to bring up this matter," Vitter said. "The American people can change that and call their House members and demand that the leadership have a fair vote and pass this into law."

Both Reid and Vitter are up for re-election. Reid is a top target of Republicans, while Vitter has gotten bad press lately after a run-in with an airline employee at Washington Dulles International Airport. In 2007, he acknowledged a "very serious sin" after his phone number was discovered in the records of a prostitution ring.

Last week, Pelosi stood behind the current system, saying that there is usually an annual vote in relation to the raise. But that vote is always a tightly choreographed affair — coming on a procedural motion on whether to permit a direct vote on the issue — that allows lawmakers to duck an up-or-down vote on the pay raise.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 

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