Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Congressional Pay Raise Scam

by Ralph Nader

There are times when comparisons matter a lot. Just compare Congress and its self-voted forthcoming salary increase from $150,000 to $155,000 a year with the federal minimum of $5.15 per hour that Congress has frozen for years.

Since 1989, members of Congress have granted themselves a total of $60,500 in raises. This is much more than keeping up with inflation, in addition to their very generous pensions, health and life insurance, housing deduction and assorted perks. The federal minimum wage, by contrast, is lagging severely behind inflation. Had Congress kept the minimum wage at the same purchasing power as it was in 1968, it now would be $7.50 per hour.

Millions of Americans are working today for wages that buy far less livelihood than minimum wage workers bought in 1968. During this time the economy has doubled in real GDP per capita.

The failure of our economy to provide for working families is in part a failure of Congress, the White House and their surrender to business lobbyists whose prices certainly have not stagnated and whose executive compensation has soared.

The moral authority of Congress to govern reflects itself to many citizens by the way the legislators handle their pay. The Congress has been handling it very poorly. Thirty or even twenty years ago, Congressional Committees would hold public hearings and conduct public floor debates on increasing the legislators’ pay. Members of the House and Senate used to have to stand up and vote one way or the other. There was intense talk radio and other media interest in this character examination.

But, being a law unto themselves, Congress changed the rules. No more public hearings. Doing nothing gets them more money. For there is an automatic COLA inserted into a much larger appropriations bill for the Treasury Department. To get a floor debate and a roll call vote requires a proposed amendment and that may not be allowed on the floor by the intricate rules of the House. Nice immunity from the American people who pay those salaries, eh?

Over at the Senate, Senator Russ Feingold (Dem. Wisconsin) has vowed to force a vote up or down on the floor next month. Last year, he lost such an effort, but garnered a total of 33 Senators voting against that year’s pay grab.

The majority in the Senate, including the leadership, Democrat Tom Daschle and Republican Trent Lott, not only voted for their salary increase but were downright smug and patronizing toward Feingold. If the lawmakers who are lining their own nest have no fear of a citizen revolt on such a personal issue (and the polls consistently show overwhelming opposition to their regular salary increases by the people), why should Congress be responsive to the peoples’ sensibilities on matters dealing with health insurance, drug prices, money corrupting our elections, burgeoning federal deficits, bloated military budgets and an overbearing foreign policy.

Think of the context for the Pay Raise drive. Our economy is wobbly; unemployment is growing; consumer, corporate and national debts are at all-time records. The Congressionally unfettered corporate crime wave underway for years is eating at jobs, pensions and investor equities. Meanwhile, the ravages of high level greed by the powerbrokers are everywhere.

Yet, Congress is at its annual stealth pay raise maneuver once again.

It is time for the people to teach Congress a lesson. If you focus on your two Senators – calls, letters, e-mails, meetings back home – you’ll have their election-time fingers in the wind blowing in the responsible direction. Be imaginative – ask them whether they want more signatures on the next letter you send; send copies to their opponents and members of the media.

On August 14, 2002, a coalition of national conservative and liberal groups sent a letter to each Senator asking them to oppose the proposed $5,000 Congressional pay raise (almost half the minimum wage for a worker laboring for a full year).

They pointed out that there is no shortage of highly qualified candidates willing to run for Congress at the current salary. Actually, most newly elected members of the House of Representatives receive a substantial salary increase, compared to what they were paid in their former job.

For a copy of the full text and other action-oriented information, access the website or call (503) 235 – 8012. The Congressional switchboard for your Senator is (202) 224 – 3121.


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”