How long will lawmakers' pay stay frozen?
By Ben Pershing
President Obama wants the government to tighten its belt, and his 2011 budget proposal calls for military and civilian federal employees to get just a 1.4 percent pay increase next year, significantly less than they got this year. The salaries of senior White House staff will be frozen. So what about members of Congress?
Obama's budget is silent on the subject of what lawmakers should be paid, but don't expect this issue to stay quiet, particularly in an election year. On Tuesday, a reporter asked House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) -- a longtime supporter of members' annual pay raises -- whether he would be willing to freeze congressional salaries until the federal budget is balanced.
"I'm sure that Congress would be willing to consider" a freeze for next year, Hoyer responded. "We froze cost of living adjustments this year, and I'm sure we'll consider that again. If you're talking in terms of freezing until we balance the budget, that's a long time, and I think that that's further ahead than I want to plan."
Reporters laughed at Hoyer's response, but the question could become a serious one as Election Day approaches.
Federal law gives members a raise pegged to a cost of living formula each year unless they specifically vote to block it. Congress voted last year to freeze their salaries for 2010, and it's hard to imagine they won't make the same choice for 2011, given the current state of the economy. Lawmakers' current salary is $174,000 per year.
Some lawmakers have already proposed scrapping their 2011 raise, and others want to get rid of the current system of automatic raises. But it's unclear whether members would really agree to freezing their pay until the budget is balanced, given that -- as Hoyer said -- the red ink won't be disappearing any time soon.
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