Senate Votes Itself A Pay Raise

The Senate voted itself a pay raise for the fifth straight year, boosting the annual salary to about $158,000 in 2004.

The House also agreed last month to accept an increase in the annual cost-of-living allowance, which gives all members of Congress a boost of about 2.2 percent in their take-home pay starting in January.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who every year stands up against pay increases, said that with the economy still weak and many Americans finding it hard to make ends meet, it was "the wrong time for Congress to give itself a pay hike."

"This automatic stealth pay raise system is just wrong," he added.

Feingold said that with an annual increase of about $3,400 slated for next year, an election year, members of Congress will have received a $21,000 raise in their pay over the past five years.

The Senate, by a 60-34 margin, tabled or killed his amendment to a pending appropriations bill.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said it was a mistake to call it a pay raise, and that lawmakers were merely receiving a cost-of-living increase being given to other federal workers and military personnel.

"This increase is required by law," he said.

The pay issue was taken up as part of a $90 billion spending bill for fiscal 2004 for the departments of Transportation and Treasury. It includes a 4.1 percent raise for both civilian and military employees. Under a complicated formula, that translates to about 2.2 percent for members of Congress. This year, rank-and-file members will receive $154,700.

That's slightly less than the average wage increase in private business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages among all nongovernment workers rose an average 2.7 percent from July 2002 through June 2003.

The 2.2 percent increase also applies to the vice president, congressional leaders and Supreme Court justices. President Bush's $400,00 salary is unaffected by the legislation.