For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, March 17, 1999

For More Information Contact:
Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787

Groups Criticize Plans for $25,000 Pay and Benefits Hike for U.S. House of Representatives
Raise and Per Diem Could Boost House Salary and Cash Benefits over $160,000

Responding to news reports that some Members of the U.S. House of Representatives want to raise their salaries and cash benefits by as much as $25,000 per year, Ralph Nader said that "Greed has aggressively overtaken this Congress. House leaders have abandoned self-restraint, and are shamelessly trying to pack their wallets with the people's tax dollars without even discussing it with the voters back home. Congress is quickly eroding its moral authority to govern."

The Hill reported today that House Administration Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) wants to allow House Members to receive a tax-free $125 per diem, worth perhaps $18,000 to $20,000 per year, from their congressional office budgets. The Thomas per diem plan would amend the rules governing Members Representational Allowances. It could be approved in the Administration Committee, and would not require a House floor vote.

"The Thomas per diem plan is a devious backdoor salary grab," Nader said.

Roll Call reported this week that both House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) are also supporting a $4,600 pay raise for Congress.

"These pay raise plans are an arrogant and outrageous affront to American taxpayers," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "House Members do not deserve salaries and cash benefits worth over $160,000 per year."

"Congressmen keep bringing up schemes to give themselves more money," said Paul Jacob, national director of U.S. Term Limits. "If they aren't happy with their jobs, there are plenty of good citizens willing to serve in their place."

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. House leaders are supporting congressional pay raise of 3.4%, which would boost congressional salaries to $141,300 per year, without the proposed per diem. Last year, Members of Congress gave themselves a $3,100 raise, effective January 1, 1998.

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.

The Hill reported today that both Speaker Hastert and Minority Leader Gephardt are discussing the Thomas per diem plan with Members. According to The Hill, the $125 per diem would be paid to Members living outside a 50 mile radius of the Capitol.

The federal debt is currently over $5.6 trillion dollars. "House Members are wrong to enrich themselves from taxpayer funds, but especially wrong when our country is so deep in debt," Nader said.

"While the Congress is diverting attention to the federal deficit, its leaders are furtively ballooning the congressional deficit, making a mockery out of the principle that frugality begins at home," Nader said

"Accumulating a 5.5 trillion dollar national debt, changing our role in the world from creditor nation to a debtor nation, watching our educational system sink to the lowest levels of industrialized nations, allowing Social Security and Medicare to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, exporting our good paying manufacturing jobs overseas and trying to personally destroy one another at every opportunity is hard work!" said Russell Verney, chairman of the Reform Party.

"The Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to reward themselves for these accomplishments by granting themselves a $20,000 tax-free pay raise. All Americans can empathize with Congress' desire to keep the government from taking up 38% of your income. But, then, they are the government. Congress should make the tax code simpler for all of us instead of using the tax code to give themselves a pay raise. To quote Mark Twain, 'There is no distinctively native American criminal class except Congress," Verney said.

"Chairman Bill Thomas is the poster boy for greed and arrogance in Congress," Ruskin said. "As a phony conservative, he has no respect for the taxpayers."

Nader encouraged citizens to support two bills by Rep. Phil English (R-PA), H.R. 590, to eliminate automatic annual congressional pay raises, and H.R. 589, to reduce the special tax deduction for the living expenses of Members of Congress from $3000 to $1. "Call your House Members and urge them to oppose increases in congressional pay or benefits, and to support H.R. 589 and H.R. 590," Nader said.

"Letting members of Congress draw a $125 tax-free per diem -- without even voting on it -- would be yet another affront to the hard working taxpayers who pay their salaries," said Steve Dasbach, national director of the Libertarian Party. "Congress doesn't need their pay increased -- they need to have their pay cut. Let's return to part-time, citizen legislators who receive most of their pay working a real job back in the district they represent."