- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Yielding to election-year reality, the Senate passed a bill Thursday to deny members of Congress from receiving their annual pay raises next year.

Democrat Russ Feingold engineered the surprise passage of the legislation, which would deny senators and members of the House of Representatives automatic pay raises of about $1,600 next year. Members of Congress make $174,000 a year.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously without a roll call vote. The House has yet to act on it, but probably will go along given that all House members must face the electorate in November.

Congressional lawmakers receive automatic cost-of-living pay increases unless they pass legislation to block it — as they did last year. The last time lawmakers opted to take the pay increase was in 2008, which meant they received a $5,000 raise last January.

Congressional pay hikes are part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, when Congress gave up its ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the lawmakers voted otherwise.

In the early days of Republican control of Congress, lawmakers routinely denied themselves the annual cost of living allowances, or COLAs. They have accepted the raises during most of the past decade.

Now, with unemployment averaging almost 10 percent nationwide and with Congress suffering from abysmal approval ratings, it was a no-brainer to decline the increase in pay.

Most members, however, privately support the pay raise as a means of retaining experienced lawmakers and of making sure that Congress is not simply dominated by wealthy people. Many lawmakers maintain homes both in the expensive Washington housing market and back in their districts. On most days, they meet with lobbyists who earn far more than they.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes $223,500 and Minority Leader John Boehner draws $193,400. President Obama makes $400,000 a year.

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