Members Won’t Get Full Rebate

Posted January 25, 2008 at 6:30pm

Members of Congress appear to have largely cut themselves out of the tax rebate bonanza crafted last week by House leaders and the White House.

While Members often grumble about inadequate compensation — and gave themselves a $4,100 pay raise for 2008 — they make too much to get full tax rebates under the stimulus deal, and many make too much to qualify for any rebate at all.

Payouts of $600 per person and $300 per child start phasing out at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples in 2007 adjusted gross income, below the $165,200 Congressional salary last year for rank-and-file members. Members could get partial rebates because childless couples still get at least some rebate until they hit $174,000; each child adds $6,000 to the cutoff.

Members would get a $440 rebate check if they were married with no children and no outside income. The same couple could qualify for a $1,040 rebate if they had two children, or even more if they have certain deductions such as alimony payments or investment losses. In practice, many Members have significant outside income and would receive little or no rebate, although it is impossible to know exactly how many because they are not required to disclose their tax returns.

House Democrats had pushed for caps on income so that the stimulus would be targeted to the middle class and the working poor.

“Normally Members of Congress allow these kinds of things to go quietly into their pockets, but apparently the notion of adverse publicity was too much to take,” said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. Sepp said he would have preferred a universal rebate without caps, and longer term tax relief, but added, “At the very least, Members of Congress are showing the American people that they won’t be cashing in.”

But Sepp added that the likelihood that most Members of Congress will make too much money to be eligible for aid “will once again draw attention to Congressional salaries, which are one of the hot-buttons for the electorate. … It sure deflates the argument for a Congressional pay raise.”

Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said Members of Congress shouldn’t have gotten the $4,100 raise they gave to themselves — they now make $169,300 — let alone any stimulus money on top of it.

“It would be pretty unseemly if they were getting the rebates,” Paige said. “They keep getting pay raises for doing a worse job.”

Any Member that does qualify for a rebate should give it back as a political gesture instead of pocketing it, Paige said.

“If they do qualify for this stimulus, which I certainly hope they don’t, I hope they don’t pocket it,” she said.