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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Webb should worry more about earning his pay

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Why fix Social Security when you can brag about banning earmarks and freezing your salary?

That seems to be the attitude of members of Congress who are fixated on minutiae such as earmarks and congressional pay. Both parties make a big fuss over the supposed evils of earmarks -- even though they amount to less than 1 percent of spending (and many of them fit into categories that even the most conservative lawmakers would deem appropriate public spending), while the looming insolvency of our entitlement programs threatens 40 percent of our budget.

And as the federal debt ceiling looms closer, lawmakers chatter about how frugal they are to turn down pay raises over the past two years. The savings last year: $850,000. U.S. spending: $3.5 trillion. There'd be too many zeros to write out the decimal for that percentage.

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is co-sponsoring this year's approach to congressional salaries, which would take things a step further. The legislation would permanently end automatic raises for members of Congress. He says he's backing the legislation as a "matter of fairness."

"With many Americans still out of work and trying to figure out how to pay their bills, now is not time to give Congress an automatic pay raise," Webb said in a press release issued Monday.

What's fair, however, is earning the salary you're paid. Does Webb think that legislators don't do enough to earn their $174,000 incomes? Does he think that banning a cost-of-living increase will make them better at creating policies to guide America out of this economic mess?

Perhaps Webb is right. Maybe congressional salaries should be frozen, or even cut. After all, they are higher than the $152,000 average income you'd earn working as a lawyer in the D.C. area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while $174,000 doesn't go nearly as far in Washington as it does in other places, it's considered a nice fat salary in most parts of the country.

But whether or not the legislation is passed, I hope two things come out of this: one, that lawmakers don't use it to pretend they're setting government back on the right fiscal track; and two, that they actually work hard enough to earn their salaries. I, for one, would like our elected officials do that kind of job that makes it worth paying them salaries in the top range of their profession.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | February 1, 2011; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia  
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