This holiday season must be truly jolly for the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
While the rest of us worry about making ends meet in a worsening recession, everything's coming up roses for these representatives of the people.How many other 29 percent pay hikes have you heard about lately? Probably none. But starting Jan. 1, Congress is boosting its salaries from $96,600 to $125,100 per year.
To be perfectly accurate, the House voted itself a 25 percent increase in 1990 back in 1989 plus a 3.6 percent cost of living boost. But the way the raise is calculated, the combined hikes come to 29.5 percent.
The incongruity of such a huge gouge of taxpayers' pockets at a time of national economic crisis seems lost on the members. Certainly there's been little vocal evidence that many in Congress are disturbed.
This is a national disgrace.
The nation teeters on the brink of war. The deficit is out of control. We're in a recession that worsens by the day. Congress and the administration have imposed tax increases. But the House continues blissfully on its way, ignoring these facts, as if it were some privileged elite body above the common herd.
One outspoken congressman had the courage to urge that the pay raise be rolled back. Rep. Andy Jacobs, D-Ind., tried to get his bill to the House floor but says he was blocked in committee.
This is the same kind of arrogance that cost Louis IV and Marie Antoinette their heads in the French Revolution.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Congress has shown the same lack of concern about junketing by members at taxpayer expense. Only recently, Rep. Bob Carr, D-Mich., proposed a tightening of travel rules to the Democratic caucus.
Carr said abuse of travel "causes disrespect to come down on all of us, even those who go on perfectly legitimate trips as part of our congressional duties."
Carr used as an example the ABC Prime Time Live expose on a trip last spring to Barbados by eight members of the House Ways and Means Committee headed by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill.
ABC cameras caught committee members spending much of their time frolicking at the pool, being entertained by lobbyists, or golfing at taxpayer expense. The five-day four-night stay came at the windup of a 12-day committee trip by 34 people that included stops in several South American cities. It cost a total $100,000, some $40,000 of it for the Barbados portion.
ABC reported that the congressmen spent less than seven hours in business meetings and most of their time relaxing. Each billed the government for $1,176 in daily expenses and other costs, even though they got many meals free at receptions or from lobbyists.
Rep. Carr's bid to tighten the rules never came to a vote. He withdrew it when he realized it would have been roundly beaten.
Obviously, there was little interest in the House for reform.
The House has put its own self-interest above that of the people at a critical time. The Senate, on the other hand, is taking only a small cost-of-living increase in next year, bringing their pay from $98,400 to $101,900.
The House is acting more like the fast-buck artists who brought the Savings and Loan debacle than like elected representatives sworn to defend America.
So far, only a few voices outside Congress have complained, Ralph Nader being one. The scope of the pay raise ripoff has been lost while the media focused its spotlight on the election and the Persian Gulf crisis and debate.
It's time the people woke up to this arrogant money grab by a greedy Congress and let their representatives know of their outrage at this selfish display of greed at a time of national peril.