Melting Snowballs and Flying Pigs

John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

How’s your purchasing power, driver? Increasing? Decreasing? Are you keeping up with the creeping-up cost of living? You know, if you were a member of Congress, despite our seriously ailing economy, you wouldn’t have to lay awake nights worrying about it. It would be taken care of, automatically.

Just a few weeks ago members of Congress ever so quietly voted themselves a pay raise. It takes House members from $150,000 to $155,000 (their fourth pay raise in four years, this time with only three “no” votes).

But, Congress didn’t call it a pay raise. When members were asked, many called it a “cost of living adjustment.” I don’t expect you’ll remember the event, it was buried away inside a late-night vote on a spending bill intended to finance 2003 operations for the Treasury Department, the U.S. Postal Service and executive offices.

The bill doesn’t actually use the words “pay raise.” But, under this piece of 1989 legislation, the pay raise goes into effect automatically, unless Congress votes against it via a series of complex procedural moves. What are the chances of that? Look, an unmelted snowball in hell! Before 1989, Congress had to stand up and vote itself an increase. In 1990 they were earning $98,400. That’s a nearly 60 percent increase in 12 years.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn) was reported as saying the automatic pay increases were preferable to allowing lawmakers “to fall behind in purchasing power.” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) reportedly said: “What pay raise? You mean the cost of living increase.” If the captain of the Titanic had said, “that’s not an iceberg, it’s just some very hard water,” it would still have sunk his ship.

But they don’t take the cake. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) does. He was reported as saying “I don’t think it’s an accurate thing to say that anyone in the House voted himself a pay raise. It really upsets me.” It upsets him? He’s upset we don’t buy into this prestidigitation? That people don’t like the idea of a back door bonus? “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. And a sneaky pay raise by any other name would smell as