Taxpayers should demand that members of Congress return the loot from last year's notorious salary heist.

The voters surely have not so soon forgotten that daylight burglary on Capitol Hill, the brazen caper that capped the unlamented Greed Decade.President Bush, the ultimate insider, may now regret that he helped pull off that inside job which enriched a bunch of bozos who turned on him by rejecting the budget deal.

In any case, the president's pay also should be whacked for his flip-flopping ineptitude that contributed to the current budget debacle.

Voters are outraged by congressional and presidential shenanigans that threaten to shut down the government for the second time this month.

Government operations will come to a grinding halt if Congress and the White House don't hammer out a budget by Friday.

Pay cuts would have symbolic merit without seriously depleting the incomes of members of Congress and the president, who are firmly entrenched in the nation's wealthiest 1 percent.

The main thing Congress and the president agree on is that it is the middle class who will be hit hardest with new and higher taxes.

No wonder there is an anti-incumbent groundswell of rage out there in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway.

The president's 20-month honeymoon is over. His approval rating in the polls has plunged almost 20 points from a high near 80 percent.

Democrats talk hopefully of regaining the White House in 1992. Conservative Republicans, angry at Bush for abandoning his no-new-taxes pledge, are considering deserting him for another candidate.

In the three-week homestretch before the Nov. 6 elections, many members of Congress are pleased that the administration finally has begun to take some of the heat from voters who are mad as hell and determined not to take it anymore.

Taxpayers already were hopping mad - mainly at Congress - about being forced to bail out the crippled thrift industry while the federal deficit shot skyward.

Now there are increasing doubts about the wisdom of the president's deployment of American troops in a confrontation with Iraqi aggressors that threatens to erupt into war.

The time is ripe for Congress to repeal its unconscionable salary grab.

The place to start is the House, where members are to get a 25 percent pay raise in January that will boost their annual salaries to about $124,000.

Senators raised their pay to a maximum of $98,400, while gradually phasing out speaking fees and other outside income.

Members of Congress should repeal the salary heist because it's the right thing to do.