Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pay Raises

The ABH has its panties all in a wad about Congress’ last-minute pay raise.  Beating up on legislators who vote themselves a raise is an easy and convenient straw man, but sometimes you have to look at the story behind the story.

First, you’ve got to know that the pay raise was bundled in with an appropriations bill that funded the Department of Justice, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a handful of independent agencies.  Obviously, it was bundled in for a reason, but the question is, what was the reason?

Before we get to that, we’ll briefly play the blame game.  Who’s to blame?  The Republican majority in both houses.  The majority party controls which legislation hits the floor, and they can put the kibosh on procedural moves meant to amend the legislation once it makes it to the floor for a vote.  

Now, why was the pay raise bundled in the first place?  We see two possibilities.  First, you’ve got the necessity for political cover.  Congressional pay raises aren’t the most popular thing back home under any circumstances, and especially not in an economy like this one.  How many of Saxby Chambliss’ constituents would like an extra $258.33 a month?  We know we would.  So, if you want to pad your check, the best bet is to do so very stealthily, and preferably within the bounds of an appropriations bill that keeps the government in business.  Of course the media is going to notice anyway, so it helps to have the political cover afforded by not wanting to screw over the FBI or HUD.  

The other possibility, which can co-exist peacefully with the first, is that voting for a pay raise puts incumbents in a bind.  It’s a legislative Catch-22.  How would you prefer the direct mail piece attacking you read?  “Congressman Phineas Q. Windbag voted against funding the Department of Justice and keeping the FBI on the front lines in the War or Terror,” or “Congressman Phineas Q. Windbag voted himself a fat pay raise, while Americans are barely scraping by”?

Of course, that one can be used against incumbents of both parties, so it’s kind of a wash.  We would mention however, that legislation is a two-way street, so we humbly offer a suggestion to Congressman John Barrow.  

Want to be a legislative hero, Mr. Barrow?  Here’s how.  You’ve got some time off, so put your brain trust to work on a new bill, giving Congress a $5,000 per year pay cut.  While you’re down here in the district, publicize the hell out of it, make it your legislative raison d’etre.  Don’t worry, the media eats this stuff up.  And don’t just tout this thing in the 12th, it’s got national media legs.  (For some help on how to do that, talk to John Linder about how the GOP turned the Fair Tax Act into the best faux-populist cause since free silver.)  With a decent press effort, you’ll end up on at least a few of the second-tier cable shows, and maybe get a hit in the WaPo.  Then, when it’s publicized enough so that your colleagues know that there’s at least a chance their constituents have heard of it, tie it in to a bill on your committees (Small Business, we’d suggest.  No one wants to screw small business.)  Shake gently, sit back, and watch the fun.

Would it pass?  Not a chance.  Would Johnny B. get some good PR out of it?  You betcha.  

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