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Mark Caserta: Congress' pay increase should be merit-based

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Our congressional representatives have the only job in the nation where employees have the ability to set their own salary, at the taxpayer expense, without regard to performance or employer satisfaction.

Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress to set its own pay. Currently, members of Congress earn an annual base salary of $174,000 with leadership salaries higher than rank-and-file members.

For years, Congress used stand-alone legislation for pay increases. However, beginning in 1975, annual adjustments took place automatically unless members voted not to accept them. In 1989, this method was revised requiring these automatic annual adjustments to be determined by elements of the Employee Cost Index.

The 27th Amendment mandates these pay raises do not take effect until the next Congress is sworn in. So, for members of Congress to obtain a pay raise, they have to be re-elected.

While it's true lawmakers have befittingly denied themselves a pay raise for the past couple of years, members were on track to begin receiving increases in 2013 unless they voted against it upon returning from August recess. If lawmakers chose not to address the issue and both chambers failed to pass legislation either accepting or refusing, the final decision falls to the president who, through an executive order, may then institute a pay increase.

With Congress not having addressed the issue through the last days of 2012, the decision on a pay increase seemed destined for the president's desk.

Given the ineffectiveness of this Congress, the decision "not" to afford pay increases seemed like a no-brainer. Recent Gallup poll data shows Congress has only a 10 percent approval rating, tying the lowest in Gallup's 38-year history of the measure.

Yet, last Friday, President Obama proceeded with a very questionable executive order providing all federal workers and members of Congress a pay increase. Late Tuesday, the House stepped up and approved legislation that would block any such pay increase, yet it's uncertain whether the Senate will even consider the bill.

Understand, Congress' approval rating is at an all-time low for a reason!

This is the Congress that lost our nation's credit rating. The Senate hasn't passed a budget in more than three years and not a single appropriations bill was brought to the floor in 2012. According to an analysis of House attendance, nearly 20 current members have missed more than 10 percent of the votes this year, with several members missing as many as 40 percent of the votes, according to the Washington Post.

Our representatives have proven they have insufficient motivation to be effective for the American people. Congress' salary increases should no longer be automatic, but based on performance. A Constitutional Amendment mandating merit-based pay for Congress should be proposed.

While it's doubtful the two-thirds majority needed for such a proposal could be achieved, it's indefensible that taxpayers would fund automatic pay increases for Congress when an increasing number of Americans are working for minimum wage.

It's time for Congress to make their money the old-fashioned way -- earn it.

Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.

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