J. Scott Applewhite, AP
This Oct. 1, 2018, file photo, shows the Capitol at sunrise in Washington. A handful of senior House lawmakers, frustrated by more than a decade of frozen congressional salaries, are quietly exploring whether to accept an annual pay raise that they’ve shunned since Barack Obama was first president.

Only in Washington could a system be devised to allow members of Congress to increase their salaries with no connection to job performance or budget constraints. As with all spending these days, that proposed raise would go on the national credit card and increase the interest we pay on our national debt. It’s just common sense, however, that when you are already standing in a deep hole, the first step is to stop digging. I oppose raising pay for members of Congress and was glad that House leaders listened, changed course and pulled the proposal.

I came to serve Utahns in Congress to help make a better future. That’s hard to do when a large part of the budget goes toward financing spending decisions from the past. As Salt Lake County mayor, I presented a balanced budget every year and then worked with Republicans and Democrats to make tough choices about where taxpayer dollars would go. When money was tight, we found places to cut spending. When times were good, we caught up on deferred maintenance, enhanced services and lowered the tax rate. The county’s fiscal stewardship allowed us to maintain a AAA bond rating, which meant we received low interest rates when we did decide to borrow to make important investments in public safety or transportation.

The current debt levels in Washington allow no such flexibility. President Donald Trump’s recent tax law changes and proposed fiscal year 2020 budget add several trillion dollars to the national debt. Both parties and the president are to blame for the fiscal mess. It’s hard to find anyone willing to have an honest conversation about the risk the debt poses to our country’s future, let alone call for reducing it. It is time to act.

I know that stopping a pay raise for each member of Congress seems like a pittance in the face of all the red ink. The federal budget deficit for the first eight months of the fiscal year is $738 billion, putting us on the dubious path of reaching a nearly $1 trillion deficit by Sept. 30. For me, borrowing any money to give members of Congress a pay raise would add insult to injury.

" Borrowing any money to give members of Congress a pay raise would add insult to injury. "

In a somewhat obscure way, congressional salaries are funded in a permanent appropriations account and not in the annual appropriations bills. That means that the salary hike takes effect automatically, unless there is language approved to stop it. I submitted a simple, one-sentence amendment for consideration that states no cost-of-living adjustment would be made for members of Congress for the coming fiscal year. If ruled in order, my amendment would give us a chance to vote on whether to forgo the increase. Constituents should know where we stand.

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Members of Congress are hardly impoverished. I chose public service to help lower health care costs for Utah families, modernize our transportation infrastructure and protect Social Security and Medicare to keep our promises to older Americans to maintain their financial well-being. That’s complicated when interest costs on the national debt will eclipse Medicaid costs by next year and defense spending by 2025. One way to help enforce fiscal restraint would be to pass my proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which requires a balanced budget except in times of war or economic recession. Until then, I will work to cut unnecessary spending where I can, starting with a halt to any pay increase for members of Congress.