Clyburn asks for raise despite tough times

Jim Clyburn

BRAD NETTLES

Somebody needs to tell Jim Clyburn it's an election year.

You have to figure he didn't realize, otherwise why would he have done something like voting to give himself a raise?

While 12.2 percent of South Carolinians are unemployed.

When many people with a job are suffering through wage freezes and furloughs.

As Congress is under attack for bone-headed spending.

A couple of weeks ago, Congress -- in its finite wisdom -- voted to forgo its annual raise, which cost each member about $1,600.

They had to vote to stop the increase because, about 20 years ago, they made their raises conveniently automatic. Congress has now voted against its own cost-of-living adjustments for two years running.

This year, however, 15 Democrats voted for it. And they were wondering why the GOP sent them flowers.

Protest vote

Clyburn says he was only trying to make a point.

You see, a congressional watchdog group lobbied against the raise, arguing that it wouldn't hurt these guys to go without (seeing as how nearly half of them are millionaires anyway). The 6th District congressman says it shouldn't be that way -- it shouldn't be only the wealthy who run the country. He says he cast a vote for the raises in protest of the assertions by said watchdog group.

"Their belief that most members of Congress get their wealth from outside of their congressional incomes is the kind of attitude that has led to the notion that only the independently wealthy should serve in Congress," Clyburn says.

Clyburn is right that Congress shouldn't be the exclusive domain of the uber-rich, and that members have the added expense of maintaining two households -- one in tony D.C., the other in their districts.

But good luck selling that excuse to the voters. While everyone but Wall Street executives and Sarah Palin is suffering, members of Congress are making $174,000 -- three times the median household income.

And if you want to get technical, that piddly $1,600 raise Congress just brushed off is more than 10 percent of the per capita income in many of the counties Clyburn represents.

Merit pay?

So, as if the Republicans needed any help delivering an electoral spanking this year, the Dems are making it even easier.

Just 15 Democrats voting for a raise is a huge headline. Who cares that another Democrat introduced legislation to cut Congress' pay? That's not nearly as outrageous as --soak it in, it's a stunner -- 15 congressmen voting themselves a raise.

Now, the Dems will argue that both sides are guilty of padding their wallets. In 1985, members of Congress made $75,100. By 2000, they were pulling down nearly twice as much. Over the last decade, their raises have amounted to more than $3,000 a year -- of our money. And since the two parties traded control of Congress several times in the preceding decade, both are to blame.

But politics is perception. And Republicans weren't tone-deaf enough to vote themselves a raise this year.

Like Clyburn did.