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Lawmakers' salary package doesn't include raise for 2010

Senators decide, however, to retain their automatic cost-of-living raises for future years in spite of call by Senate majority leader and others to do away with them.

March 11, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Tuesday denied themselves a pay raise next January but, with an eye toward a better economic and political climate, decided to retain their automatic cost-of-living raises for future years.

A blur of last-minute procedural maneuvering in the Senate produced a salary package for members of Congress that holds their annual pay at $174,000 until 2011. Earlier in the day, on a 52-45 vote, senators rejected a more politically painful proposal that would have forced lawmakers to stand up and be counted when they want to boost their salaries.

No senator dared to dump on that idea publicly, with the economy tanking, 12 million constituents unemployed and the 2010 elections looming. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared that he supports the premise behind Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter's proposal to do away with automatic pay increases.

But Vitter's amendment, Reid said, could have killed the underlying $410-billion omnibus spending bill because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had threatened to reject any changes to the measure. So Reid offered to do away with automatic raises in a separate bill.

Vitter objected, killing Reid's bill. Both sides briefly launched accusations of political gamesmanship.

Later in the day, the Senate passed the spending bill by voice vote and sent it to President Obama, who is expected to sign it today. The House passed the bill last month.

Congress' automatic pay raises were expected to resume in 2011, unless the House and Senate banned them before then.

The pay raises are always sensitive matters, and the nation's founders apparently wanted it that way. The Constitution directs Congress to determine its own pay while being accountable to constituents every few years -- a balance that has produced pitched debates.

Congress has raised its own pay in stand-alone legislation more than two dozen times, according to the Congressional Research Service. In 1989, the Ethics Reform Act made it possible for members of Congress to receive automatic annual pay increases unless Congress voted to skip them.

Congress voted to forgo the annual raise in 2007, but received one last year. This past January, lawmakers received a $4,700 increase, bringing their salaries to $174,000.

It was unclear whether Congress would ban automatic pay raises beyond 2011. Much depends on the state of the economy after two years of Obama's stewardship and how voters in next year's elections judge Congress' performance.

Reid's stated support for the idea of banning the automatic pay raise could give the proposal more steam. "I am committed to doing this," Reid said on the Senate floor.

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