Contrast Dinkins with Foley. New York City’s government is deep in deficit. It has to tighten its belt. The new mayor, David N. Dinkins, decided this month to set an example for the necessary austerity budget. He cut his own pay and the pay of nearly 700 other senior city government officials by five percent. He also froze the salaries for 3800 managerial employees.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tom Foley (D-WA), and his lieutenants are adamantly opposed to repealing their pay increase of about $35,000 a year of which $25,000 goes into effect in January 1991. Never mind cutting their pay, Foley and Co. are going for the biggest pay raise in Congressional history.
Never mind also that the federal government is broke, that the 1991 deficit will reach $300 billion if the Social Security surplus is not used to reduce it down toward $230 billion. Never mind that Foley and Co. are huddling with White House officials (who also support and will receive a big pay hike for themselves) to cut budgets in such areas as environment, health, housing, mass transit, safety and education. THEY want THEIR pay increases.
Wait, you say. Politicians are usually cautious about pay raise issues just before elections. Don’t they know that people are angry with Congress, that 80% of Americans polled want the Pay Grab repealed and that about 70% want limited terms for members of Congress?
None of these considerations matter to the Capitol Hill politicians because most of them are sitting on hordes of special interest campaign cash and standing for election in districts that are essentially one party districts.
Common Cause released information recently that pointed to 82 congressional districts where there is no major party opponent even on the ballot. Another 300 congressional districts have nominal opponents with less than $25,000 in their campaign kitty. Only 28 congressional districts can be viewed as competitive, concludes Common Cause.
So what do these politicians have to worry about? They sweet talk the folks back home and absorb more and more perks, and benefits. The latest disclosure is that Congressional leaders have a hideaway gasoline pump on a side street on Capitol Hill to fill up their limos with free gas. Their list of perks would qualify them as royalty were it not for the Constitutional ban on such titles. Their pensions are so generous that many of the present members of Congress will, after retirement, pull down a million to three million dollars in pension benefits.
And of course they exempt themselves from many of the employer and retiree laws that they apply to everyone else.
To top it off, Foley and Co. have perfected a tyranny inside the House of Representatives where they stifle even the principle of one legislator, one vote. Rep. Andy Jacobs (D-IN), Rep. Doug Walgren (D-PA) and others, who want to bring Congress under a “share the pain” umbrella during these budget cutbacks for everyone else, cannot even get a vote on the floor of the House regarding repeal of the Pay Raise. Parliamentary maneuvers by Messrs. Foley, Bob Michel, the Republican minority leader, simply gave the jackboot to legislators who are naive enough to believe that democracy should prevail inside the House of Representatives via the voting power.
Foley is receiving more and more heat from his constituents back in Spokane (and vicinity), Washington. But he has no opponent. The struggle to repeal will continue, however, and with the sturdy example of such elected officials as the Mayor of the nation’s largest city, David Dinkins, the pressure will increase from indignant voters in the coming weeks to show Washington who is boss.