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Obama couldn't raise pay for Congress

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

The recent right-wing conservative furor over what is being called a "pay raise for Congress," facilitated by an executive order signed by President Obama, is purposely biased and blatantly misleading.

It is also a dead issue since representatives and senators voted separately to turn down pay raises "to prevent tax increases and spending cuts that economists said might pitch the economy over the cliff." I suspect the Congress was probably too embarrassed to allow itself a raise. And, I suspect the president knew the likelihood of this action when he signed the aforementioned order.

What should be "fair and balanced" reporting on the part of the news media has been, once again, neither fair nor balanced. Here are the facts:

A freeze on pay raises for all federal employees has been in effect since 2009. According to my research, federal workers' salaries were frozen at 2010 levels, a move President Obama supported in order to "save $60 billion from deficits over ten years." During the 2012 presidential campaign, media widely reported that if President Obama were re-elected, the aforementioned pay freeze would be eased.

It is important to note that the 2009 freeze applied not merely to members of Congress but to all federal workers -- everyone from park rangers to circuit, district and federal judges to the vice president. By law, a sitting president cannot be granted a pay raise. Any raise in salary applies only to his successors.

The 2009 freeze cut spending and had the effect of helping limit the federal deficit, but it came with the undesirable side effect of hindering the government's ability to hire the best qualified people for federal jobs.

President Obama did NOT give the Congress a raise, as was widely reported. The Congress is the only federal agency with the Constitutional authority TO RAISE ITS OWN SALARY! The lifting of the freeze will go into effect in March 2013. The president had the authority under the executive order to limit salary increases to 1.2 percent; however, he only allowed increases up to 0.5 percent. In other words, it was essentially a "cost of living" increase.

No person I know enjoys working under a pay freeze, period. But I can understand a deep public resentment to a salary increase for a "do-nothing" Congress which was "less popular than cockroaches." The last Congress, which had the dubious distinction of achieving the lowest public polling figures of any Congress for decades, was held in less than low esteem.

If the president could have given such a raise, a public outcry for granting it to the previous Congress would have been more than justified.

It was misleading for journalists to suggest that President Obama gave a pay raise to members of Congress. I repeat: the president of the United States does NOT have the authority to grant salary increases for members of Congress. Further, it is worth noting again that ALL government spending bills must originate in the U. S. House of Representatives.

What the president did was lift a general salary freeze. In any case, now it has become a non-issue.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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