Members of Congress ought to vote themselves a decent, up-front pay raise this month so they can afford to start paying to park at National Airport like the rest of us.
One of the tricky things facing this lame-duck session is what to do about congressional pay.
Unless Congress blocks it, the pay of members (now $60,662.50) will go up $16,000 on Dec. 18. If Congress blocks any raise for itself (and for career government executives) it will be because members fear the wrath of the voters, most of whom do not make $60,000 a year and can't imagine anybody other than a movie or sports star who is worth that much.
Some members of Congress don't need the money. Indeed, the U.S. Senate is fast becoming a millionaires club.
Some members genuinely don't want the extra money. Several, in fact, turn back a portion of their salaries to the U.S. Treasury. Hooray for all of them!
Some members may be afraid that higher congressional pay scales might attract unwanted competition for their jobs.
The majority of members, however, probably want the raise, need it, and deserve it. If there are members who aren't worth their pay, we the voters (and especially the non-voters) are equally at fault.
Because Congress has traditionally been afraid to vote itself a raise, Capitol Hill has resorted to back-door financing to help elected officials make ends meet. The perks range from those free, reserved parking spaces at Washington's two main airports to gyms on Capitol Hill, cut-rate health care at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval hospitals, stationery allowances and even favorable cab zones surrounding the U.S. Capitol.
The price of a cut-rate Congress has been the creation of a Mandarian Class of elected officials who feel they are due certain perks and benefits unavailable to the people they came here to serve.
There is no major corporation or business in the country that pays its top executives so little. And there is no board of directors in the nation with so much power and responsibility.
Many corporate salaries, it is true, are outrageous. So if you don't like Johnson & Johnson products, don't buy their Band-Aids. If you think Lee Iococa makes too much at Chrysler, buy another brand of car.
For better or worse, we only have one brand of Congress.
Even if you don't like the Social Security system, federal tax laws, MX missiles or the bathroom facilities at Yellowstone National Park, you still have to pay for them -- and Congress decides what you pay for and how much you get in return.
If Congress does allow itself a pay raise, most radio, TV and newspaper commentators -- some of them hardly in the pauper class themselves -- will have a ball. And many voters, and non-voters, will yell. That is the reason there are elections every two years.
Various public opinion polls have shown that Americans rank Congress, as an institution, pretty low on the totem pole of respectability. But the same polls show that most people think their particular member of Congress is pretty good. Very interesting, these polls.
Congress has not voted itself an up-front pay raise since 1979, when salaries went from $47,500 to $60,112.50. In the years since, the pay of white-collar federal workers went up 7 percent, 9.1 percent, 4.8 percent and, this year, 4 percent.
Because Congress has refused to raise its own pay, the salaries of thousands of senior federal civil servants -- from astronauts to administrators of multibillion dollar programs -- have also been frozen.
The cost of a congressional-federal executive pay raise would equal about what the Pentagon spends in a three-day period.
It would be a lot more fun (and safer, too) to knock the idea of a congressional pay raise. But what if it is true that you get what you pay for?
So, Congress, bite the bullet and take the money. If the voters think you made a mistake, they will let you know about it in November 1984.