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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Feathering Their Own Nest


After supposedly campaigning against inflation, both the winners and losers have returned to a lame-duck congres­sional session where they quietly plan to raise their salaries $10,238 to a level of $70,900 a year.

And that’s not all. They also are moving to give the defeated legislators a last-minute 7.7 percent increase in the lifetime annuities they receive from beleaguered taxpayers.

The Capitol Hill politicians figure that by the time the next election comes around in 1982, the voters won’t remem­ber this heist. Also those defeated senators and representatives will be beyond reach of the voters as they chuckle all the way to the bank.
Back in 1977, members of Congress raised their own salaries by more than $12,000 and then added another $3,000 in 1979. What a model they are setting for the rest of America! No wonder
people are so cynical about Congress. No wonder businesses that exceed the price guidelines delight in observing such congressional hypocrisy.

The legislators in Congress who are not already rich are telling you they can’t live on $60,662.50 plus many fringe benefits. They are betting that they’ll move so fast to raise their pay by the December 5 adjournment that you won’t be able to do anything about it.

You can prove them wrong. Call your local congressman’s and senators’ of­fices and protest. Tell them you won’t forget this outrage, nor will your friends and neighbors. Or write your congres­sional delegation in Washington. In addition, it would be very effective for you to write your thoughts to the “letter-to-the-editor” column of your local newspaper.

It has been said that society, like a fish, rots from the head down. Former Carter speech writer James Fallows wrote recently that President Carter’s moral position on controlling inflation was seriously eroded when he approved sizable increases in White House staff salaries (including Fallows’) just after assuming office in 1977. Carter also went along with Gerald Ford’s recom­mendation for the large congressional salary increase in January 1977 just before Ford left office.

Now will Carter stand up and oppose this power play before Congress attaches its pay hike to a continuing budget resolution which he is slated to sign? Unlikely.

Will Ronald Reagan—the self-touted fighter-to-he against inflation and bloat­ed congressional budgets, including the Congress’ own budget—speak out and put the legislators on the spot? Don’t hold your breath.

Perhaps some members of Congress, like Rep. Toby Moffet (D-Conn.) and Rep. Charles Grassley (R-lowa), will quickly lead the opposition against the deplorable Democratic and Republican leadership. Moffet and Grassley were leaders in the unsuccessful effort to block the last gigantic pay raise three years ago.

In the past, elected politicians were very reluctant to raise their salaries. This stemmed from a time in the early 1800s when Congress feathered its nest and found the people boiling mad. Two-thirds of the members were defeated in that November election and the new Congress rescinded the increase.

Presently, the lawmakers are brazenly defiling their office and betraying the voters’ trust.

Federal salary levels are running out of control. The American Bar Associa­tion, composed of many lawyers who practice before judges, is demanding that federal judges be given an increase of more than $30,000. This would raise their salaries to $97,000 a year plus benefits. When I asked the ABA presi­dent whether he thought it was proper for lawyers to push higher salaries for judges who judge lawyers’ cases, he said yes.

No doubt, senators and representa­tives soon will say that they should receive as much as judges. Meanwhile the average American family, which pays their salaries, tries to make it on $16,500 per year. The gap between the ruled and the rulers grows and grows.

If you want a free copy of the story of the 1977 Congressional Salary Grab send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Gene Karpinski, P.O. Box 1904. Washington, D.C. 20036.