Matheson again fights automatic pay hike

Published: Monday, Dec. 29 2008 12:16 a.m. MST

Despite the country's economic meltdown, Congress is about to receive an automatic $4,700 pay raise on Thursday — a 2.8 percent increase over the current $169,300 salary for most members.

Rep. Jim Matheson says that is unconscionable, and he's vowing to renew his annual fight to stop such automatic raises. He says the bad economy might just help him win this year, and a government watchdog group is joining his battle to say the raise is a bad idea in such times.

"In a situation where there aren't many people in this country who are seeing their salaries go up, and in fact a lot of people are losing their jobs, the notion that Congress should be having an automatic pay raise without even a vote just doesn't pass the smell test," Matheson said earlier this month.

Agreeing is Tom Schantz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste — which also issued a call for Congress to stop its automatic pay raise.

"While thousands of Americans are facing layoffs and downsizing, Congress should be mortified to accept a raise," Schantz said.

Worse, Schantz said Congress hasn't earned a raise because it allowed the deficit to balloon while Congress was "plagued with corruptions allegations." So, Schantz said, "If congressional leaders believe that the taxpayers should give pay raises to this rogues' gallery of ineptitude and venality, they ought to step away from the spiked eggnog."

With that and the economic downturn, Matheson said, "I think there very well could be some momentum to force this issue to a vote" in the coming year, and perhaps early.

Since Matheson entered Congress, he has attempted every year to force Congress to vote on whether to accept a raise rather than receive it automatically. He has always failed on procedural votes that would lead to such a straight up-or-down vote (although one year Congress separately chose to not take a raise while the minimum wage was not raised).

"You realize the raise is going through on Jan. 1, and we didn't even get the opportunity to have a procedural vote in 2008" on it, Matheson said. "So it was even more opaque, or less transparent, than in the past."

With the economic downturn, Matheson said, "I think there's a lot more interest in saying, 'Wait a minute, is this the right thing to do at this time?' Again, whether or not Congress deserves a pay raise, there ought to at least be a vote. This year in tough economic times, I think Congress should tighten its belt just like everyone in America is."

Matheson every year gives the amount from his pay raise to charity. "I spread it around throughout the district," he said. Some of the charities that received money from him this year, he said, included Toys for Tots, the Iron County Care and Share, the Canyon Creek Women's Crisis Center and Trees for Charity in Vernal.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com

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