Earlier his month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted itself a $3,100 pay raise. Didn't hear about it? That's no surprise. It was challenged by just one lawmaker, Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who "debated" for two minutes. Few people noticed.
How things have changed. In the early-1990s, Republicans used a broad critique of entrenched Democratic leadership, including opposition to pay raises, to gain control of Congress. Then, Republicans rejected pay raises in three of the first four years after they gained control of Congress. But those days are over. As a silent and sad punctuation to Congress's pay raise, the Democrats joined the Republicans in agreeing to keep the issue out of the 2006 elections.
It might have slipped by even more quietly if not for this comment from scandal-plagued House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas:
"It's not a pay raise," claimed DeLay, who will now make $183,500 a year. "It's an adjustment so that [we're] not losing [our] purchasing power."
Tell that to families trying to live on the minimum wage, which Congress hasn't raised since 1997. A full-time minimum wage worker earns $10,712 annually.
No one opposes pay raises when they are warranted. But Congress doesn't deserve a raise. Not this year. They're working for big money contributors, not us:
Instead of lowering gasoline prices as Americans head out on summer vacations, members of Congress abuse their power by taking free overseas golf junkets funded by lobbyists.
Instead of addressing the health care crisis, Congress sides with big drug company donors by prohibiting the federal government from negotiating lower prescription drug costs.
Instead of addressing the causes of bankruptcy filings - like soaring medical costs and massive layoffs, politicians in Washington pass a bankruptcy bill of, by and for contributors in the banking and credit card industry.
Does Tom DeLay really deserve a $3,100 "adjustment"? He has been rebuked by the House Ethics Committee four times. Yet his GOP colleagues return him to leadership. A Texas political committee he founded violated campaign finance laws in an effort to add more Republicans to Congress. His overseas travel on the dime of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff allegedly violates House rules.
This activity should be investigated, but Republican leadership fired the independent-minded chairman, and installed a "yes" man, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington. All five Republicans on the Ethics Committee have received campaign contributions from DeLay's political action committee. No wonder Hastings is refusing to appoint an outside counsel to investigate DeLay.
For that matter, does Chairman Hastings deserve a raise? He took a 2000 trip financed by a company that he then helped get a contract to clean up waste at the local Hanford facility. When that company was fired, Hastings jumped to back Washington Group International's successful bid to replace them. WGI was Hastings' top source of campaign cash in 2004.
How about Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio? Embroiled in numerous scandals, Ney has been accused of assisting lobbyists in the bilking Native American tribal casinos of $82 million, influencing the purchase of a casino cruise-ship company in Florida to mob-related interests, and taking a trip to London financed by a corporation which was seeking his help in securing government contracts.
Few could argue that Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-California, deserves a raise. Cunningham sold his house in San Diego to Mitchell Wade, CEO of defense contractor MZM, for $1.675 million. Wade then sold the house for a $700,000 loss a few months later. Rep. Cunningham sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. MZM received more than $100 million in contracts from the Pentagon. The circumstances have sparked a FBI investigation, and Rep. Cunningham to announce he's leaving Congress.
The Democrats' response was to cede a potent political issue - and with it sent a message that they have a ways to go before becoming a "party of accountability."
These examples depict a majority party in Congress that abuses its power for personal gain and to reward wealthy donors. To make matters worse, Congress has failed to deliver on pressing needs like lower gas prices and accessible health care because they're in the deep pockets of lobbyists and big donors.
They don't deserve a pay raise.
David Donnelly is National Campaigns Director for Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming America's campaign finance laws.