Washington They'll fight with abandon over tax cuts, Medicare spending or the time of day, but there is one topic that leaves Republican and Democratic lawmakers positively speechless -- raising their own pay.
In what has become a yearly ritual, members of the House of Representatives, with virtually no debate, voted Thursday to give themselves a $3,800 cost-of-living increase, to $145,100 a year, despite the efforts of a lone lawmaker to stop them.
"I have a hard time voting to increase my pay when people in my district are earning an average income of $25,000 a year," said Rep. Ernie Fletcher, R-Ky., who alone spoke about the pay raise on the floor.
Fletcher tried to introduce a measure to stop the pay hike. A law created by Congress gives lawmakers an automatic increase every year unless they act to block it. Fletcher's move was defeated on a procedural vote, 250-173. The Senate is expected to allow the pay raise to go forward.
Lawmakers' annual salary would rise 2.7 percent from $141,300 a year. The automatic pay adjustment is pegged to the rate of inflation.
It would be lawmakers' third pay raise in the past four years, all acquired the same way. Emboldened by a booming economy and the public's general optimism about the future, lawmakers felt they were safe in taking no action to block the pay adjustment.
But just in case, they dealt with the issue as quickly and quietly as possible.
Boisterous congressional pay debates were a staple until 1989, when Congress passed the law giving itself an automatic cost-of-living increase each year. The move took some of the bite out of the issue as challengers found it harder to use what amounts to a non-action against incumbents in election ads.