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Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787
Responding to news reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt support a $4,600 congressional pay raise, Ralph Nader said that "Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Gephardt shouldn't take advantage of the taxpayers with yet another congressional pay grab. If anything, Congress deserves a pay cut."
According to today's Roll Call, "Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wants to hand Members bigger paychecks, but he's reluctant to make an aggressive, public push to raise the $136,700 annual salary...Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) is equally supportive of the COLA...and equally adverse to assuming a prominent role in the debate."
Members of Congress are already overpaid. They currently earn a $136,700 annual salary, plus generous pensions, perks, and other benefits. Top leadership earns more. The proposed congressional pay raise of 3.4%, or $4,600, would boost congressional salaries to $141,300 per year. Last year, Members of Congress gave themselves a $3,100 raise, effective January 1, 1998.
"Members of Congress ought to strip the lard out of their budget -- by taking aim at congressional pay and perks -- instead of further indulging themselves at taxpayers expense," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project.
"What stronger proof that we have an unrepresentative Congress," said Paul Jacob, national director of U.S. Term Limits. "They work for the American people and the people are strongly opposed to another pay raise...so they plan to sneak this through."
"Seems the less they do the more they need to be paid for it," said Russell Verney, chairman of the Reform Party.
"This bi-partisan salary heist proves that Republicans and Democrats are perfectly capable of working together -- as long as they personally benefit from the deal. Americans are getting tired of politicians' claims that they are just 'serving' the public, when they're really just serving themselves," said Steve Dasbach, national director of the Libertarian Party.
During the last ten years, House Members gave themselves five pay raises, Senators six. Congressional salaries grew by $47,200 -- more than $15,000 above inflation. In 1989, the base congressional salary was $89,500.
Many Americans haven't been so fortunate. The median income for full-time, year-round male workers was higher in 1970 ($35,691) adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1997 ($35,248). That means many Americans haven't had a real wage increase in more than a generation.
"If America didn't get a raise in nearly thirty years, then why should Congress keep giving itself raises?" Nader asked.
"Members of Congress have voted themselves such luxurious salaries that they sympathize with the economic status of corporate and wealthy elites and forget about regular folks," Ruskin said. "That has concrete legislative implications. Any congressional pay raise would make the problem worse. Hastert and Gephardt should raise the minimum wage, not the congressional salary."
Many Members of Congress receive large raises when they come to Congress. A 1996 Roll Call study found that "all but six of the 73 newly elected House Members will receive large pay hikes when they take office" compared with their previous employment.
"Instead of boosting their salary, Congress should pass real campaign finance reform and ensure the ethics Committee impartially investigates allegations of corruption," Nader said.