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Campus Notebook: Senate Puts a Final Nail in the Coffin of Member Raises

Members of Congress will not be getting a pay raise in 2011 after the Senate passed the final version of a bill last week to cancel next year’s automatic pay increase.

Congress’ pay raises have been automatic since 1989, though Members have opted to cancel the raises during years of economic hardship. Last week’s vote means Members will get a salary of $174,000 for the third consecutive year. House and Senate leaders are paid more; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, has a salary of $223,500.

The Senate originally passed Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) bill to freeze Members’ pay on April 22. The House then passed an identical bill last week — under the names of Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) — and the Senate gave the final approval a couple of days later.

Usually, the annual raise is between 2 percent and 3 percent to keep up with inflation. For 2011, Members were scheduled to only get a 0.9 percent bump, or $1,600.

But freezing Members’ pay is always tied to political rhetoric, with Members of both parties decrying any raise to Congress as an affront during a time when many Americans are unemployed. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers.

“In these tough economic times, with unemployment so high and so many families struggling to make ends meet, I believe it would be unconscionable for Congress to give itself a raise,” Mitchell said in a press release. “Raising Congressional pay at a time like this would be glaringly out of touch, and I am pleased that the Senate has joined the House in passing this legislation. The American people are not getting a raise this year. Neither should Congress.”

In-House C-SPAN

Members, staffers and anyone with a computer can now watch live streaming video of the House floor through HouseLive, a new service launched last week by Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller.

It works much like C-SPAN, giving visitors to a way to watch the chamber’s proceedings live. But HouseLive also has an easy-to-use archive stretching back to the beginning of the 111th Congress, along with a summary of that day’s legislative action. In addition, it includes joint meetings and sessions of Congress. As of last week, the service had about 450 users.

In recent testimony to the House Administration Committee, Miller said the service — now in a beta testing stage — will also provide tools for Members to create video clips to use on their websites or on third-party sites such as YouTube. Currently, Members and their staffers have no such in-house capability and instead have to find clips elsewhere.

HouseLive, Miller said, “will maximize transparency and will increase public awareness of legislative proceedings.”

But so far, it’s unclear whether the service will eventually offer video of committee hearings, which can now only be found at individual committee websites with a varying degree of quality. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked Miller last week to look into the possibility.

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