WASHINGTON – Senators on Tuesday agreed to give up their annual pay raise, saying they need to do their part to save the government a little money in light of the huge expenses from Hurricane Katrina (search) and the growing budget deficit.
Congress is looking for ways to rein in spending, said Sen. Jon Kyl (search), who sponsored the pay freeze proposal. "It's hard to argue that this process shouldn't include our own salaries." It passed 92-6.
Under Kyl's amendment to a spending bill covering federal workers, senators would forgo the estimated 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase that would otherwise have automatically gone into effect unless the Senate voted to reject it.
The pay increase, also applicable to House members, would boost the salary for rank-and-file lawmakers by $3,100 to $165,200.
Not every senator saw the vote as totally selfless.
"It's the annual hypocrisy day in the United States Senate," said Sen. James Inhoffe (search), R-Okla., who said he had voted against similar measures in the past but would support it this year because "we've never seen a situation like it is today."
He said the vote has always allowed members seeking reelection to "go home and say 'look what I've done, I've stopped us from having a pay raise."'
Kyl said that giving up this year's COLA would save the federal treasury about $2 million. Congress is currently trying to find some $50 billion in savings to offset the spending needed to rebuild the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast area.
The House earlier approved a similar spending bill with only one lawmaker speaking out against the pay increase. But House conservatives have recently revived the issue in a package of proposals to cut federal spending and reduce the budget deficit.
The two chambers will need to take a common stance on the issue when they meet to work out differences between their two bills.
Republicans froze salaries for several years after gaining the majority in 1995, but in seven of the past eight years lawmakers have accepted cost-of-living increases, usually with little or no debate.
Salaries stood at $101,900 in 1991 and have gone up from $133,600 in 1997.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, noted that Republicans took over the amendment this year when it was certain to pass. He said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has been the lone Senate voice opposing the pay raises for years, "and no one can take away the fact that this has always been Russ Feingold's mantra."