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Posted Nov 17, 2011, 4:36 pm
In a letter to the budget-cutting "super committee" Thursday, 25 members of the House called for a cut to House and Senate salaries, echoing a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords just days before she was shot
Giffords introduced a bill on Jan. 6, just two days before she was shot in the head, calling for a 5 percent cut in pay for U.S. senators and representatives.
"The House today voted to cut the office budgets for members of Congress by 5 percent," Giffords said in a news release in January. "I strongly support that cut. But our salaries should not be exempt. Members of Congress must set an example and there's no better way to do that than by cutting our own salaries."
Thursday, a bipartisan group of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans called upon the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to "send a powerful message to the American people that Congress should not be exempt from the sacrifices it will take to balance the budget."
The letter noted that members of the House and Senate are paid $174,000 per year – 3.4 times what the average American with a fulltime job earns.
"Members of Congress are more generously compensated than legislators in almost every other county in the world," the letter said.
A 5 percent cut, as proposed by Giffords, would save $50 million over 10 years. A ten percent pay cut would save $100 milllion over a decade, the letter said. Adjustments to members’ benefit packages, which can be worth 47 percent of salaries, could result in millions of dollars in additional savings.
"We are living in tough economic times," Giffords said in January. "Everyone is being forced to make sacrifices. Members of Congress can't ask any American to cut back before we are willing to make some sacrifices of our own. I'm prepared to do that and I want my colleagues to join me."
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Despite the bill having 18 cosponsors—including Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who signed Thursday's letter—it has not progressed.
"Congresswoman Giffords strongly feels that members of Congress must lead by example as we tighten federal spending," Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, said Thursday in a press release.
"As the supercommittee grapples with ways to make spending cuts, we feel it is essential that they include cuts to their own salaries as part of a final package," she said.
Giffords' proposed legislation would cut congressional pay effective after the November 2012 election. Cutting sooner is not possible because the 27th Amendment does not allow adjustments to pay in between election cycles. The bill also would block all automatic pay increases for members of Congress.
The last time Congress took a cut in pay was in 1933, during the Great Depression. Members' salaries went from $9,000 to $8,500 per year, a 5.6 percent reduction.
The base pay for House and Senate lawmakers is now $174,000, while majority and minority leaders each make $193,400 per year. House Speaker John Boehner is paid $223,500.
Giffords introduced her legislation on the same day that House members voted to cut the budgets of their offices by 5 percent annually for two years. Giffords supported the cuts, which passed the House on a 410-to-13 vote.
The office budget cuts, which also will affect House committees and leadership, were expected to save $35.2 million this year. For Giffords, the 5 percent office budget cut represented about $78,400 of the amount that the House allotted her to maintain offices in Tucson, Sierra Vista and Washington.
The congressional office budgets pay salaries of House staff members as well as rent for district offices, travel, office supplies and other office costs.
Thursday's letter was spearheaded by Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Chellie Pingree of Maine, Carusone said.
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A bill to cut congressional salaries was introduced by then-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) with bipartisan support in 2010. Giffords was one of 34 cosponsors of the bill, which did not come to the floor.