WASHINGTON, D.C. - With a tough economy leading to dwindling kickbacks from lobbyists and declining favors from key muscle figures back home, Congress secretly voted last week to give themselves raises.
Each member of Congress will get an extra $100,000 next year, a free pass for one on any Atlantis Events cruise, and a lottery ticket to be the first to kiss the ring of President-Elect Barack Obama on inauguration day. Democrats, the majority party in Washington, will receive an extra bonus, the number to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s personal, unbugged phone line.
“I dread looking at Wall Street,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in anticipation of Monday’s stock market reaction. “But…what the hell…CC Sabathia gets $9 million to play for the Yankees…before even throwing one pitch. It’s Christmas. And we serve a much more important function than any sporting entertainment. We deserve this.”
After a year in which the Dow lost nearly 4,000 points, the national debt is surging toward $11 trillion, Congress approved a $700 billion bailout for the financial industry (then got mad at themselves for doing it), and automakers Chrysler and General Motors received a $15 billion bailout from the Bush administration after Congress declined to award one (perhaps so they could pay themselves?), some watchdog groups are not happy about the raises.
“As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executives to accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault for their own personal gain,” said Rip O’Toole, chairman of The Vocal Old Guys League, a non-partisan group. “This money would be much better spent helping the millions of seniors who were conned into blowing their retirement on the promise of equitable IRAs and stock investments lasting well beyond their lifetimes.”
Jerry Nicklepockets, vice president of the budget watchdog Taxpayers for Government with a Shred of Common Sense, said Congress should have taken the rare step of freezing its pay, as lawmakers did in 2000.
“Look at the way the economy is and how most people aren’t counting on a holiday bonus or a pay raise — they’re just happy to be stuck in meaningless jobs for another year and be able to enjoy college bowl games over the holidays on their HDTVs,” he said. “But you have lawmakers who are set up to get a pay raise and go happily along their way. What really burns me is the free pass on any Atlantis Events cruise. I mean, c’mon. We all know members of Congress are prostitutes, but do they really have to flaunt their gayness so openly, too?”
Nikki Fourfingers, president of the Government Employees Union Local #267, which represents Congress, said the raise was on par with union governing brethren worldwide. “This is a solidarity issue. Members of Congress are not about to make any givebacks, even though the economy is bad. The taxpayer will just have to live with it. And like it. Or else.”
In 1789, Congress received just $6 a day, which amounts to about $75 a day by today’s standards. Currently the average star lawmaker, such as House speaker Nanci Pelosi, makes $4 million a year. The minimum salary for Congress members is about $600,000, established in a new union contract after members went on strike for much of 2002.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, a first-term Democrat from Arizona, did sponsor legislation earlier this year that would have prevented automatic pay adjustments from kicking in for Congress next year. But the bill, which attracted zero cosponsors (although then-Sen. Hillary Clinton said she’d sponsor a similar bill in the Senate if Mitchell agreed to write in a raise for the secretary of state), failed to make it out of committee.
Mitchell was later stoned to death for breaking union ranks.
Financial swindler Bernard Madoff has offered to fund the increased Congressional salaries through his Ponzi scheme in exchange for a $50 billion government bailout to pay back the millionaires to whom he owes $50 billion. The government is said to be demanding ownership in his investment firm as part of any agreement.