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House Votes to Freeze Members’ Salaries for 2011

Updated: 5:38 p.m.

The House passed a bill Tuesday to freeze Members’ salaries for 2011, just days after the Senate passed a nearly identical bill sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

The bill now has to go to the Senate for a final vote. But if it passes, as is expected, Members will face a third year with the same salary of $174,000.

Democratic leaders added the bill — sponsored by Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) — to Tuesday’s agenda on Monday night. It passed overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon with a tally of 402-15. Though identical in substance to Feingold’s, it is still a House bill and thus will have to go back to the Senate before being sent to President Barack Obama.

Mitchell represents a Republican-leaning district and narrowly won re-election last year to his second term. Within hours of the vote to block the pay raise, he was touting the bill’s passage on his website.

Stephanie Lundberg, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said the chamber took up Matheson and Mitchell’s bill instead of Feingold’s because they “both led the charge on this issue in the House.”

“We are hopeful the Senate will take it up immediately and send it to the President,” she said in an e-mail.

Members have gotten automatic pay raises since 1989, when the Ethics Reform Act set up a formula to determine the pay raise based on the Employment Cost Index. The increase is usually about 2 or 3 percent to keep up with inflation. But Congress has passed legislation to cancel the raise a handful of times, usually in economically difficult periods.

The vote is fraught with politics, and on Tuesday, Members took to the floor to decry Congress’ automatic raises when so many Americans are unemployed.

“It is insulting that anyone would accept an automatic pay raise — something most of my constituents will have to do without,” Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) said.

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