The letters are starting to pour in and their opposition to the gigantic salary increases, proposed for top government officials and members of Congress, is strong and indignant. When Olga Sanders of Dallas, Texas, heard that a Presidential Commission on top government salaries recommended a $57,600 a year salary increase to Senators and Representatives, she wrote: “Please tell me how I can take an active part in the crusade against this outrage. I will distribute leaflets, get on a soap box, or anything that a senior citizen can do to prevent this hijacking.”
When Mr. and Mrs. Fred D’Alesio of Orlando, Florida heard that the top 3,000 officials in Congress, the federal judiciary, and the Reagan Administration could receive a 70% to 80% salary increase, they wrote: “They are giving us senior citizens 1.3% raise in social security this January 1987, and then we are raised in our payments under Medicare… we protest.”
The letters are coming from workers, students, homemakers and even some state legislators. Kenneth Fisher of Portsmouth, Virginia, typified the action-orientation of these missives: “Tell me what I can do to help you to defeat this hoggish effort. I am anxious to get started fast on this project.”
Well, the first step is getting the information out about reasons why this immense Congressional salary grab of 1987 is so disgraceful. First, these officials are already slated to get a 3% automatic cost of living increase on January 1. This means a $2300 raise for members of Congress, making their salary a total of $77,400 plus generous benefits and allowances. On top of this, the Commission wants to raise them to $135,000 and Cabinet Secretaries to $160,000 a year.
Presently, members of Congress, not counting their ample fringe benefits, are making five times the average worker’s wage. Under a special law, if members of Congress do not vote to reject President Reagan’s salary rises, due Jan. 5, in thirty days, their raises become law in February. Members of Congress passed this law several years ago to avoid the necessity of their having to have a record roll call vote on this sensitive matter.
I believe such a law is unconstitutional and this issue may be tested in the federal courts. It certainly is a sneaky, back door way to get more money for themselves.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill will object to any salary increase — Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) has already done so- and demand a record vote. They know the mood of the American people. There is serious recession in the farm, steel, textile and other areas. Real family income is declining and unemployment is high. There are huge budget deficits and broad cutbacks in critical health, safety, education, housing and other programs. The prospect of Mr. Reagan next month urging these pay raises for the top cadre can only be seen as further erosion of what moral authority is left in Washington’s leadership.
The salary raise boosters in this city claim that their pay has not kept up with inflation and that more pay will bring better people to serve. They are mistaken on both counts. In 1964, members of Congress made $22,500; in 1968, they made $30,000. On January 1, they will start making $77,400 plus allowances perquisites and benefits that they never had twenty years ago. Anyone who believes that paying top people in government tens of thousands of dollars more a year will bring more competence, integrity and dedication should reread the history books and also look at what debacles those fat corporate executive salaries are producing.
Now is the time for all good people to send a message to Washington: Stop this Salary Grab with a record vote in Congress. Or better yet, President Reagan can stop it all by himself simply by not requesting in his January budget message any salary increases. He can remind the legislators and his appointed colleagues in the Executive and Judicial branches that, during the Depression in 1932, Congress reduced its salary by 10% to set an example.
If you wish to join this short but important crusade for salvaging the government’s residual credibility, write to — Stop the Salary Grab, P.O. Box 19404, Washington, D.C. 20036. Put in a self-addressed, long envelope. You will receive petition forms, a list of other action ideas and a fact sheet to spread through your community.
There is an old saying that when there is heat back home, there is light here in Washington. Stand up these next few weeks in a grand American drive to make our government respect itself for a change.