A big casualty of the Battle of the Budget -- whose innovative tactics included denying bathroom privileges to tourists at U.S. parks and museums this holiday weekend -- could be those 25 percent congressional pay raises. The raises are coming, quietly, in January.
The raises are part of ethics reform. Members agreed to stop taking so much cash from special-interest groups (for speeches or breakfasts) in return for a $7,100 raise this year, plus another 25 percent in January. That, coincidentally, is after the elections.
The upcoming raise will take members to about $125,000 a year. The raise schedule has been on automatic pilot since 1989 and has been forgotten by many. The media have been preoccupied with the latest federal furlough plan, following up White House veto threats or tracking down the hottest leak from Congress about the budget that is, by the way, more than a week overdue.
The budget mess may create an unlikely alliance of federal workers, tourists and radio talk show hosts who will get revenge via the congressional pay raise issue. Most congressional challengers, whose only hope of getting to Washington is aboard a local anti-incumbent backlash, will jump on the pay raise like rodents on cheddar cheese.
Lots of federal workers, and there are 3 million of them, are furious with Congress and the White House over weeks of furlough threats that have wasted time, money and disrupted work schedules and lives. Federal employees have been the chief pawns in the budget fight. Many federal workers -- either as individuals, union members or community leaders -- know which buttons to push in local political fights. And many are itching to give something back to the politicians.
Tourists who were denied admission to government museums and parks this weekend must have come away from their vacations with the impression that something isn't right in Washington. Some who couldn't get into a museum went to Capitol Hill to watch Congress in what is called "action." If enough people did that, the pay raise would be dead for sure.
Hell hath no fury like a big tourist family or group that must tell its oldest and youngest members that because of "sequestration" or "negative revenue enhancement," the nearest available restroom is back at the hotel.
Radio talk show hosts who have had a hard time talking (intelligently) about budget issues can hardly wait for an easier target. The talkmasters, 90 percent of whom oppose 90 percent of everything, are credited with leading the early 1989 revolt that squashed a proposed 51 percent congressional pay raise.
Members of Congress, given their responsibilities, duties and two-home expenses, are worth at least $125,000 a year. Probably more.
But although the job of senator or representative rates a high salary, many people may ask whether the politicians who helped create the budget mess and botched fixing it should be drawing $125,000 a year from the taxpayers. Or anything.