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#tbt: Roll Call Praises John Kasich on Congressional Pay Stance

Kasich and Domenici, seen here as chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Kasich and Domenici, seen here as chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Back when this publication wrote editorials, newly declared presidential candidate and current Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich won plaudits for pushing back on the politics of congressional pay raises.  

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, the Ohio Republican worked to block a Senate provision from being included in a budget resolution conference report that would have called for a seven-year congressional pay freeze. Roll Call reported that even senators were unaware of the language, which was attributed to Senate Budget Chairman Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M.  

Ultimately, a pay freeze amendment was adopted for fiscal 1996 as part of the old Treasury, Postal Service and general government appropriations bill, but that applied only to that year, as opposed to Domenici’s sweeping plan to freeze the salaries for seven years.  

Here’s how Roll Call editorialized about the efforts of Kasich and Domenici, 20 years ago this month:

Bravo, John Kasich (R-Ohio)! Reflecting the true wishes of the vast majority of his House colleagues — and most Senators, too — the chairman of the House Budget Committee fought for and won removal of a seven-year freeze on pay for Members and top aides from the fiscal 1996 budget resolution. But the battle over Congressional pay is far from over.The freeze had been inserted in the Senate’s version of the resolution by Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), who argued that if Members were going to balance the federal budget by slashing all manner of programs for the citizenry, they should share the pain by forgoing cost-of-living pay raises for themselves.

That argument has political allure, especially for Members accustomed to caving in to Congress-bashers. But it’s yet another evasion of the sensible 1989 attempt by Congress to isolate pay from politics by raising pay, authorizing cost-of-living adjustments, and banning honoraria. Ever since 1991, both chambers have been leery of taking COLAs out of fear of demagogic attacks.

This has got to stop. A Member of Congress makes $133,600 a year, less than most junior partners at a modest-size law firm. A COLA is not a “pay raise,” but a protection against inflation. Most Members could be making much more money in private industry than they do in government service, and so, over time, pay freezes are likely to encourage domination of Congress by rich people and hacks. Most Members know all this, but are terrified that some opponent (or colleague) will wave the bloody shirt. This is why Kasich deserves a courage award.

But the freeze will be back in some form — either as a straightforward floor amendment to some bill or slipped into an appropriations measure. Members should resist it out of a sense of dignity. If they believe they are doing good work, they should take their pay.


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