- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007


House Democratic leaders have abandoned attempts to revive an annual cost-of-living pay raise for its members, freezing yearly salaries at $165,200.

The move stems from a dispute in which Democrats violated a long-standing understanding that the competing parties would not use the pay raise, known as a COLA, as a campaign issue.

“There will be no COLA adjustment,” said the House’s No. 2 Democrat Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland yesterday. Mr. Hoyer has for years worked with Republican leaders to make sure an annual pay-related vote went smoothly.

Typically, the annual vote on the pay increase came on an obscure procedural move — instead of a direct up-or-down vote — and the Democratic and Republican whips each delivered a roughly equal number of votes to shut off any move to block it.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Democrats broke the agreement last year after the pay raise-related vote had already taken place. In a 263-152 vote in June, the House blocked a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah Democrat, to force an up-or-down vote on the pay raise.

“The agreement always was that the parties would not use the COLA issue in the campaign,” Mr. Blunt said. “It was as formal as anything not signed is.”

Under the congressional pay-raise law enacted in 1989, lawmakers won a big pay raise in exchange for giving up honoraria for personal gain. The COLA was born as part of the reforms, but it also had the political benefit of freeing lawmakers from having to vote on pay raises.

The issue is ripe because a Republican-drafted stopgap spending bill carrying language delaying the pay increase expires Feb. 15 — and lawmakers would automatically start receiving their raises the next day.

A huge spending bill for the current budget year is moving through the House today, and Democrats tried in recent days to reach agreement with Republicans on language to delay the pay raise a few more weeks or months to provide more time for the minimum-wage bill to advance into law.

Republicans said no.

“The [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] ran their own ads attacking [Republican] members on this,” Mr. Blunt said. “Because of that, their members are going to suffer in terms of not being able to have a COLA.”

Members were originally due to begin receiving a 1.7 percent, or $2,800, annual increase Jan. 1.

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