Senators yesterday agreed to give up their annual pay raise, saying they must do their part to save the government money in light of the huge expenses from Hurricane Katrina and the growing budget deficit.
Congress is looking for ways to rein in spending, said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who sponsored the pay-freeze proposal. “It’s hard to argue that this process shouldn’t include our own salaries.” The measure passed 92-6.
Under Mr. Kyl’s amendment to a spending bill covering federal workers, senators would forgo the estimated 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase that would otherwise have automatically gone into effect unless the Senate voted to reject it.
The pay increase, also applicable to House members, would boost the salary for lawmakers by $3,100 to $165,200.
Not every senator saw the vote as totally selfless.
“It’s the annual hypocrisy day in the United States Senate,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who said he had voted against similar measures in the past but would support it this year because “we’ve never seen a situation like it is today.”
He said the vote has always allowed members seeking re-election to “go home and say ‘look what I’ve done, I’ve stopped us from having a pay raise.’”
Mr. Kyl said that giving up this year’s cost-of-living increases would save the federal Treasury about $2 million. Congress currently is trying to find about $50 billion in savings to offset the spending needed to rebuild the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast.
House conservatives recently have revived the pay raise issue in a package of proposals to cut federal spending and reduce the budget deficit.
Republicans froze salaries for several years after gaining the majority in 1995, but in seven of the past eight years lawmakers have accepted cost-of-living increases, usually with little or no debate.
Salaries stood at $101,900 in 1991 and have gone up from $133,600 in 1997.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, noted that Republicans took over the amendment this year when it was certain to pass. He said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, has been the lone Senate voice opposing the pay raises for years, “and no one can take away the fact that this has always been Russ Feingold’s mantra.”