House votes to freeze salaries; some call for pay cuts

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.

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.

Some lawmakers are calling for Congress to do more on pay issues. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., joined by a bipartisan group of members who face tough re-election races this fall, has called for a 5 percent cut in congressional pay, reducing salaries by $8,700. She cites the example of 1933, when senators and representatives reduced their pay from $9,000 to $8,500 in the midst of the Great Depression. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who championed the pay freeze in the Senate, wants to dump the current system of automatic raises. And Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has called for barring members of Congress from ever getting a raise until the budget is balanced.