David Vitter and Congressional Pay: This Time, He's Actually Right.

If you hadn't figured it out by now, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is not my favorite member of Congress. If asked for my personal ranking of Senators, I'd probably place him somewhere in the bottom 2%. That said, I really can't claim that he's always wrong. Every now and then, he proposes something that is completely reasonable - even if his motives aren't all that pure.

Last week, he proposed an amendment to the big spending bill that would have eliminated the automatic cost-of-living pay increase that Congress gives itself every year. The amendment was shot down, ostensibly because it would have required sending the bill back to the House for another vote there.

Senate Majority Leader Reid has said that he'd take the measure seriously if it came up as a stand-alone bill, and on March 6th Reid sponsored such a bill. Speaker of the House Pelosi declined to say if she'd be willing to allow a House vote on such a measure. (Congress did vote to eliminate this year's raise, but absent new legislation they'll get one automatically next year.)

Reid is reported to have said that Vitter's amendment was a "delaying tactic" that was being employed to try and further delay the spending bill. He may well be right. However, in fairness to Vitter, it should be noted that Vitter did, in fact, sponsor stand-alone legislation to do just that. In fact, he proposed the measure (S.102) back in early January, and it's been languishing in committee ever since.

Vitter referred to the automatic pay raises as "offensive". He's right. Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institute, was wrong when he said:

"There's a really dumb idea," Mann said of Vitter's amendment. "It would ensure that the Senate has a knock-down, drag-out battle on pay raises every year."

Here's the thing that makes the pay raises offensive: Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has not seen fit to provide other branches of the government with automatic raises. There are some allowances that can increase without direct Congressional intervention, but every year the base pay increase comes only after it's approved by Congress.

There's a reason for this, of course. Back in 1989, Congresscritters decided that they were really tired of having their opponents run ads against them every election that talked about how often they'd voted to increase their own pay. They were tired of having contentious floor fights over the issue, and tired of seeing some of their colleagues use the pay increase issue as a platform for grandstanding. But they didn't want to give up the actual pay increases, so they passed a bill that gives them a pay raise every year, no vote required.

Had they decided to extend the same courtesy to the rest of the people on the Federal payroll, I wouldn't be agreeing with Vitter. But they didn't. Floor fights and contentious discussions about pay increases for bureaucrats don't have any impact on their paychecks, so there really wasn't any reason for them to go that route.

Vitter's decision to tack the pay raise bill onto the spending omnibus as an amendment might have been a cynical attempt to delay the spending measure. It might have been a cynical attempt to do a little populist grandstanding at a time when the spotlight would be on him. It's almost certainly something that he's proposed with an eye on his upcoming re-election. But that doesn't make it wrong. Vitter may well be a personally offensive sleeze with the moral fiber of a five month old tomato, but that's certainly not a legitimate argument against this bill, ether - in fact, it's a textbook example of an ad hominem fallacy.

It's also worth noting that as cynical as I think some of Vitter's motives were, he's far from the only one who deserves criticism for that. However cynical Vitter was, it pales compared to that demonstrated by Reid and his 26 co-sponsors - none of whom were onboard the measure before Vitter caught the spotlight.

But I'm still not a Vitter fan.

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Is it possible that if pay increases were not automatic but were actually voted on, that this would allow politicians to increase their pay even more than the automatic increase?

Congress sets Congress' pay, so yes. However, they could vote to give themselves a bigger increase even with the auto-pay law in place.

It really is just bullshit. It's a smoke-and-mirrors ploy to allow congresscritters to tell their constituents that "they are tightening their belts, too". It's a total load of crap, because congresscritters' salaries represent a piddly fraction of their income and non-income support for their lavish lifestyles compared to ordinary citizens.