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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 18, 2009
4:12 PM

CONTACT: US Senator Russ Feingold

Zach Lowe (202) 224-8657

Feingold Urges House to End Automatic 'Taxpayer-Funded Bonuses' for Members of Congress

Call Comes Day After Senate Passage of Bill Based on Feingold Effort to End Automatic Pay Raise System for Members of Congress

WASHINGTON - March 18 - U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is calling on the House of Representatives to join the Senate and end automatic "taxpayer-funded bonuses" for members of Congress.  In remarks made today on the Senate floor, Feingold urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to take up the bill passed yesterday by the Senate to repeal the law that provides automatic pay increases to members of Congress.  Yesterday, the Senate unanimously agreed to pass legislation based on Feingold's effort to end the 20-year-old stealth pay-raise system, which raised the pay of members of Congress without any public debate or vote. 

"These bonuses are paid every year, often without any public discussion or a recorded vote by those with the authority to approve or stop them," Feingold said. "The people giving themselves these bonuses have made sure that they get them regardless of their performance... the power to raise its own pay. While some corporate executives apparently have this power as well, it is something that most of our constituents cannot do. Because this is such a singular power, Congress ought to exercise it openly, and subject to regular procedures including debate, amendment, and a vote on the record."

Senator Feingold's remarks, prepared for delivery are below and can be found at: http://feingold.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=309964.

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

On Ending Automatic Taxpayer-Funded Bonuses

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As Prepared for Delivery

 

"Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss taxpayer-funded bonuses. These bonuses are paid every year, often without any public discussion or a recorded vote by those with the authority to approve or stop them. The people giving themselves these bonuses have made sure that they get them regardless of their performance.

"Mr. President, I am referring to the annual bonuses given to Members of Congress.

"There is some good news to report on this issue today. Thanks to the leadership of Majority Leader Harry Reid, we took an important step yesterday. Senator Reid moved legislation through the Senate that will end those annual stealth bonuses. I have introduced legislation similar to Senator Reid's for the past six Congresses, and am delighted that, because of Senator Reid's leadership, this proposal has finally passed the Senate.

"Mr. President, Congress has the power to raise its own pay. While some corporate executives apparently have this power as well, it is something that most of our constituents cannot do. Because this is such a singular power, Congress ought to exercise it openly, and subject to regular procedures including debate, amendment, and a vote on the record.

"But current law allows Congress to avoid that public debate and vote. All that is necessary for Congress to get a pay raise is that nothing be done to stop it. The annual bonus takes effect unless Congress acts.

"As I noted in a statement yesterday, that stealth bonus mechanism began with a change Congress enacted in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. In section 704 of that Act, Members of Congress voted to make themselves entitled to an annual raise equal to half a percentage point less than the employment cost index, one measure of inflation.  

"Mr. President, on occasion Congress has voted to deny itself the bonus, and the traditional vehicle for the pay raise vote is the Treasury appropriations bill. But that vehicle is not always made available to those who want a public debate and vote on the matter. As I have noted in the past, getting a vote on the annual congressional pay raise is a haphazard affair at best, and it should not be that way. The burden should not be on those who seek a public debate and recorded vote on the Member pay raise. On the contrary, Congress should have to act if it decides to award itself a hike in pay. This process of congressional bonuses without accountability must end.

"I was pleased to join with the junior Senator from Louisiana in offering an amendment to the Omnibus Appropriations bill recently. That amendment received strong support - support which was all the more remarkable because many of the amendment's potential supporters felt constrained to oppose it in order to keep the underlying legislation free of amendments. Now, thanks to our Majority Leader, we have a real chance to do so.

"Mr. President, this issue is not a new question.  It was something that our Founders considered from the beginning of our Nation. In August of 1789, as part of the package of 12 amendments advocated by James Madison that included what has become our Bill of Rights, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Constitution providing that Congress could not raise its pay without an intervening election.  On September 9, 1789, the Senate passed that amendment. In late September of 1789, Congress submitted the amendments to the states.  

"Although the amendment on pay raises languished for two centuries, in the 1980s, a campaign began to ratify it. While I was a member of the Wisconsin state Senate, I was proud to help ratify the amendment. Its approval by the Michigan legislature on May 7, 1992, gave it the needed approval by three-fourths of the states.

"The 27th Amendment to the Constitution now states: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the senators and representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened."

"I honor that limitation. Throughout my 6-year term, I accept only the rate of pay that Senators receive on the date on which I was sworn in as a Senator. And I return to the Treasury any cost-of-living adjustments or bonuses during my term.  I don't take a raise until my bosses, the people of Wisconsin, give me one at the ballot box.  That is the spirit of the 27th Amendment, and at the very least the stealth pay raises permitted under the current system certainly violate that spirit.

"Mr. President, this practice must end, and I am delighted to say that thanks to Majority Leader Reid, we have a real chance at ending it.  

"Today I wrote to Speaker Pelosi asking that the other body take up and pass the Reid legislation to end the automatic congressional bonuses. Doing so would assure the American people that we are not only serious about going after the abusive bonuses paid to the executives of firms bailed out with taxpayer dollars, but that we are also serious about ending a system that was devised to provide Members of Congress with bonuses without any accountability."

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