Members of Congress are like you and me. They have children, mortgages and car payments. But their pay ranks them in the top 5 percent of the nation.
Yet a majority of the House of Representatives last week decided they needed a 2.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment. By a 240-173 vote, the House rejected a move that would have required a direct vote on the pay hike. Instead, the COLA remained buried in a much larger spending bill.
If OK'd by the Senate and signed by the president, this salary adjustment will cost taxpayers about $1.8 million. Each member of Congress will start to earn $158,000 -- which will represent a 15 percent increase since 1999.
Both our local congressmen rejected the attempt to have a direct vote on the COLA, a procedural move pushed by Utah Democrat Jim Matheson.
"At a time of high unemployment, record budget deficits and an ongoing war on terrorism, we should adopt the same belt-tightening efforts of most American families," Matheson wrote on his Web site. "Now is not the time to be voting ourselves a pay raise."
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, defended his vote, and said a COLA is not a pay raise because it's merely keeping up with inflation.
"I think it was appropriate that it was adjusted," Bishop told me. For many years, Congress denied itself the adjustment, he said. He also referred to the safety risks members of Congress face since 9-11.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, was one of only two of the eight Republican congressmen in Georgia to vote against having a separate vote on the COLA.
Kingston said having an automatic salary adjustment takes the politics out of the issue. He also said the increases have been less than for other federal employees. This year, those employees are slated to receive 4.1 percent, compared to the 2.2 percent slated for Congress and federal judges.
"That salary is a decent salary, but there are a lot of professionals in Lowndes who make a lot more money than that," Kingston said. Many people stay out of the public sector because they can make more in the private sector, and without a decent wage, only the wealthy might consider office, the congressman said.
"You need more middle-class people," he said.
At a time when the federal deficit is already at record levels, however, our congressmen and U.S. senators might want to rethink their pay adjustments. With a deficit expected to hit $401 billion by the end of this month, the total of their pay adjustment might seem like a drop in the bucket. But it would be a symbolic gesture on their part.
As often as people complain the media are too negative, at least one reader of The Valdosta Daily Times cannot get enough bad news. Here is his or her rant:
"With all the problems we have going on in the world today and even news in the world today, it seems The Valdosta Daily Times can choose a more adequate front page cover than the one in Tuesday's edition about a family reunion. It seems pretty silly to me."
The story and photos were from a family reunion on Labor Day in McKey Park. It was merely a slice-of-life story about the kinds of activities people enjoy on such a holiday.
There is plenty of news of doom and gloom each day to keep these news columns filled, but I happen to believe readers want to see the positive sides of their lives represented as well.
Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times.
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