Democratic Congressman Fights Automatic Pay Raise for Congress

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," December 30, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIAN SULLIVAN, GUEST HOST: In Washington now, Congress getting a pay raise effective tomorrow: nearly five grand per elected member. As Americans are struggling just to keep their jobs, Congress rewarding itself just for showing up -- and maybe not even doing its job if you believe the record low approval ratings.

Well, his colleagues are taking it, but our next guest has the guts to fight it. Representative Jim Matheson is a Democrat from Utah, and you know what, he can't stop himself from getting that extra money put in the bank account, because it's going to everybody, but he is giving the extra money to charity.

Video: Watch the interview

Thanks very much for joining us. How -- you know, listen, you are against it, so thank you. But how do you explain this to the American people, many of whom who are losing their jobs and Congress is getting a pay raise?

REP. JIM MATHESON, D-UTAH: It is very hard to explain it. I don't know who could justify it. And what's worst of all is, it happens without Congress even taking any action. These congressmen were very clever years ago in setting up a process where it automatically happens without a vote of Congress.

And that has been my big complaint for the eight years I have been in Congress is that we ought to have a vote. We ought to have a public vote and congressmen ought to be on the record about whether in a given year their pay should go up or not. It shouldn't just happen automatically and not have anyone put on the record.

SULLIVAN: Yes. And many of your colleagues are saying, whoa, hey, we didn't vote for it, it is just already in the system so we will take it.


SULLIVAN: It is your system. It is our system. Break it. Change the rules. I hate when people say that. It is the rule. Break the rule. You guys are the ones that make them.

MATHESON: No question about it. And you know, I tried two things: Every year I try to place a motion before the floor of the House of Representatives to force a vote on whether or not we should have a pay raise that year.

I've got to tell you, all but one year I have done that, I'm the only guy who has stood up in that and spoken on behalf of doing that. I turn around and look after I'm done speaking and there is no one else there on either side of the aisle. And that's kind of frustrating. But the second.


SULLIVAN: And how do they explain that, because many of your colleagues are already very wealthy individuals?

MATHESON: You know, I don't know how they can explain it. They just kind of shy away. I don't think they want to talk about this issue. And by the way, I think this is an issue where the leadership of both parties kind of -- they wink at each other and say, OK, we will make sure this goes through. And that has been my experience in the eight years I've been in Congress.

SULLIVAN: You know, and we look at it and we talk about all of these people losing their jobs and the bailouts and the billions and maybe a trillion dollars in infrastructure and economic stimulus plan, and that all of this money going to the extra -- you know, it just -- the money really is not even that significant, right?

We are not even -- we are talking, what, a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year in the grand scheme, and what is that, nothing? It is the confidence level in Congress and in government that is already at a low that this hits.

MATHESON: No. You are absolutely right. It is about $2.5 million, not a lot of money compared to the billions talked about in these bailouts, but, boy, if there is ever a circumstance where it is totally inappropriate, it is this year.

You have got a lot of people losing their jobs across the country and there are not many people who are getting a raise this year. So for Congress to just blindly go along and take this raise, it just shows how out of touch the institution is.

And I have got to tell you, there is going to be a real concerted effort in January to retroactively stop this raise from happening in the year 2009.

SULLIVAN: Well, listen, Congressman, I'm glad at least you have the guts to come out and say this is the wrong thing to do. I know you are giving your raise to charity. Thank you very much for trying to restore a little bit of faith in Congress for us.

MATHESON: OK. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Have a happy New Year, Congressman, thank you.

MATHESON: You do the same.


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