WASHINGTON -- The House passed a bill Tuesday that would block lawmakers from getting their scheduled $1,600 raise for next year, a symbolic measure designed to show Congress understands the angst of voters suffering from the recession.
The measure, similar to one passed unanimously in the Senate last week, would keep members' salaries at $174,000, rather than funding a raise that is based on a formula that reflects adjustments in salaries for workers outside of the government. Under the pay system, congressional pay automatically increases each year unless the body votes to block an increase.
Lawmakers frequently push such pay freezes in election years, and they are generally even more eager to do so in the midst of a recession.
The freeze, which Congress also passed last year, accomplishes little in a public-policy sense; the federal budget deficit is estimated at $1.3 trillion this year; the bill passed Tuesday would save less than $1 million.
At the same time, few lawmakers want to defend their own pay, as many in Congress are millionaires from previous work and the median household income in America remains just above $52,000.
Norman Ornstein, a nonpartisan congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute, has criticized the focus on congressional pay. He argues -- and some members note privately -- that serving in Congress is expensive for a person not already wealthy because they have to maintain homes in both their local district or state and in Washington.