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No 'Back Door Pay Raise'

By Vic Fazio
Saturday, September 27, 1997; Page A17


In 1989 I chaired the Congressional Ethics Reform Task Force. At the time, our bipartisan panel dealt in a comprehensive fashion with many items that were particularly troublesome to many Americans: honoraria, outside income, acceptance of gift and financial disclosure – as well as salary. Your paper applauded our legislation, the Ethics Reform Act, in an editorial as "a matter of good government that ought to pass." Which makes it surprising that your editorial writers now are flip-flopping and criticizing recent congressional action on the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill ["A Congressional Pay Raise," Sept. 24].

The Ethics Reform Act was designed to eliminate the obvious conflict of interest of having Congress vote on its own pay. That's why no pay raise or cost-of-living increase was subjected to a vote in the Treasury bill this year; as they are for all other federal employees, the COLA for members of Congress and federal judges is automatic. In order to stop Congress and other federal officials from receiving a cost-of-living increase, legislation to specifically deny a COLA must be voted on by the House.

Despite this bipartisan desire to take the issue of congressional pay out of congressional politics, I've come to accept that some of my colleagues, as we have seen this year, choose to raise the issue to score political points and demagogue the institution. I accept that as a fact of political life. I am surprised, however, that your paper endorses the view that in proceeding in the manner prescribed by law – by not politicizing the issue – somehow amounts to a "back door pay raise."

It's also important to note that any cost-of-living adjustment for Congress and federal judges is based on the Employment Cost Index minus one-half percent. For example, COLAs for federal employees this year are 2.8 percent, while the proposed adjustment for members of Congress and federal judges is 2.3 percent. In addition, no congressional COLA can go forward unless the annual adjustment for General Schedule federal workers is approved. And no matter what the rate of inflation, the COLA for Congress and federal judges can never exceed 5 percent.

I hope in the future your paper will enlighten its readers as to the history of responsible action by Congress instead of playing into the hands of those who want to make political hay out of congressional pay.

The writer, a representative from California, is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post

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