WASHINGTON (UPI) — Activist Ralph Nader announced Wednesday a campaign to repeal the new congressional pay raise, contending the “pay grab” voted by the House and Senate last week would have made Marie Antoinette proud. Nader, known for his attempts to organize grass-roots campaigns, said he was certain the vast majority of Americans were upset by the pay raise and contended that if it is not repealed next year, it would become a major issue in the 1990 elections.
He complained that the $35,000 annual boost for House members and $9,000 increase for senators — most kicking in after next year’s elections —were passed with almost no public scrutiny and were especially offensive because they followed a small increase in the minimum wage.
“Members of Congress are in the top 1 percent of income earners in the United States,” said Nader. “The gap between the rulers and the ruled should grow no larger.
“Eighteen dollars an hour increase for top government officials and a little more than eight dimes for millions of Americans,” he added. “Could Marie Antoinette have topped it?”
Nader referred to the wife of the French king who, according to legend, was told the people had no bread and replied, “Let them eat cake.” She was beheaded in the French Revolution.
He complained that the so-called ethics improvements Congress passed with the pay raise were only a smokescreen and argued that people were not fooled. “They don’t like anyone to be paid to behave a little better,” he said.
Nader said a main weapon in his drive would be appearing on local radio talk shows — the same forum credited earlier this year with stopping a 51 percent congressional pay raise. “I did 25 radio talk shows last week, 15 yesterday,” he said, adding that he also would campaign for 12-year limits on congressional terms.
He contended the pay raise would unite people of all ideologies and said he would try to have his campaign “focus on incumbent legislators who voted for the pay grab and to request that those legislators who voted against the pay grab declare in writing that they will not take the salary increase.”
Nader also complained about the cooperation between Democrats and Republicans to pass the increase, calling it a “two-party cabal.”
“The spectacle of [House Speaker] Tom Foley [D-Wash.] promising to go down to Georgia and defend Republican Newt Gingrich from a Democratic challenger’s criticisms of Gingrich’s pro-pay increase vote and vice-versa illustrates the sodden cynicism behind the facade of competitive politics,” he said.
“When the lucre in their pocket is involved, the solons band together,” Nader said.