WASHINGTON – The House on Tuesday agreed to a $3,100 pay raise for Congress next year -- to $165,200 -- after defeating an effort to roll it back.
In a 263-152 vote, the House blocked a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson (search), D-Utah, to force an up-or-down vote on the pay raise. Instead, lawmakers will automatically receive the raise -- officially a cost of living adjustment (search) -- as provided for in a 1989 law that barred them from pocketing big speaking fees in exchange for an annual COLA.
Matheson was the only one of 434 House members to speak out against the 1.9 percent COLA, which will raise members' salaries in January.
"Now is not the time for members of Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise. We need to be willing to make sacrifices," he said.
The vote came as the House debated a spending bill containing a provision to guarantee a 3.1 percent pay increase for federal civilian workers. The bill, which funds transportation and housing programs and Treasury Department agencies, was scheduled for a final vote later Wednesday.
A similar effort to block the raise could occur when the Senate considers its version of the bill. Sen. Russ Feingold (search), D-Wis., has tried in the past to block it but has had no more success than Matheson did.
In a House riven by partisanship, raising members' pay is one of the few things Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agree on.
The annual debate on the members' COLA resembles kabuki theater: Both Democratic and Republican leaders guarantee sizable majorities of their members to block the effort, and they make sure there is not a clear-cut vote on the measure. None of the party campaign committees uses the pay-raise issue in campaigns.
"Each side put up their required quota" of votes, said Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House.
Republican leaders -- who succumbed to pressure to block the COLA for three of the first four years their party controlled Congress -- now are strong advocates of it. The last time it was rejected was in 1998.
"It's not a pay raise," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "It's an adjustment so that they're not losing their purchasing power."