Editorial

Big pay increases for federal workers

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The cost of the war on terror, which is being fought on numerous fronts, is still going up, and the economy still hasn't made a full recovery from the recent recession. Unemployment rates nationally are high.

Time for frugality, right? Not for the U.S. House of Representatives, which recently voted for the fifth consecutive year to give congressional lawmakers a 2.2 percent pay raise, which amounts to about a $3,300 boost over last year.

As in past years, the congressional cost-of-living adjustment was automatically included as part of pay increases that all federal civilian and military employees will receive. Annual pay for representatives and senators has risen to about $158,000 next year from $136,700 in 1999, if the legislation clears Congress and is signed by the president.

Double the recommendation

But there's more: The House and Senate also are ignoring a White House recommendation that governmental civilian pay raises be held down next year and decided on a 4.1 percent raise for almost all federal workers. That is more than double the recommendation by President Bush, who suggested about a 2 percent increase.

Most nongovernmental workers got raises of about 2.7 percent from July 2002 through June 2003, the latest data show. The 4.1 percent increase for the federal workers exceeds the president's request by $2.1 billion. It also exceeds the rate of inflation.

How can Congress justify such increases in light of the war on terror, the economy and other factors? Taxpayers don't like governmental pay increases under the best of circumstances, but it seems egregious to give government workers pay raises that are so much higher than private-sector raises.

Lawmakers' salaries were frozen from 1993 to 1997, but now is not the time to play catch-up.

Besides, not even including outside sources of income, the earnings of members of Congress rank within the top 5 percent in the nation.

Cutbacks in private sector

Businesses are holding the line on salaries and eliminating workers where they can. Some 93,000 Americans lost their jobs last month. For the pay increases being considered in Congress, the timing couldn't be worse.

This smacks of corporate executives of a failing company giving themselves enormous pay raises just before the company goes under, often leaving stockholders holding the bag. In this case, it is the taxpayers who are the stockholders.

Instead of making a prudent financial decision in uncertain times, Congress is looking to add to the nation's financial burden.

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