Having finally gotten, and lost, their vote on a cost-of- living increase for members of Congress, rebellious sophomores Wednesday said they want to take some time before deciding whether to try to bring the issue up again this year.
"If a horse is dead, you have to make sure, and then you don't ride it," said Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash. She later added, "We think it's over. We're trying to see if the horse is dead."
Another pay raise opponent, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said members want to see if there is a backlash in their districts before deciding whether to again offer amendments to block the raise. "If the American people want to revisit this issue, they'll let us know," he said.
But another pay raise opponent, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he expects the issue to be raised again. "If we don't win today, I expect [it will be offered on] a number of other vehicles," he said.
On a procedural motion, the House voted 229-199 against an attempt by pay raise opponents to force an actual vote on canceling the salary boost. The vote split both parties, with 114 Republicans and 115 Democrats supporting the pay boost and 110 Republicans and 88 Democrats opposing it.
The GOP sophomores had been trying to force a vote on the issue for a week, ever since the House quickly passed the Treasury-Postal funding bill without a rule, making it difficult for them to offer the amendment. The sophomores eventually turned to an extremely complex procedural move, trying to defeat the previous question to block a motion to instruct conferees on the Treasury-Postal bill to insist on a House plan to provide $514,000 for the exploited child unit of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Regardless of whether pay increase opponents decide to directly fight the cost-of-living increase again, conferees on the Treasury-Postal bill will have to revisit the issue, since the Senate version of the Treasury bill cancels the cost-of-living boost.
Hayworth acknowledged that opponents of the pay hike had to spend a great deal of time figuring out how to offer their plan, and were unable to spend as much time as they would have liked gathering supporters. "The problem is we've had to bury our noses in the rules of the House, so we haven't been able to count votes," Hayworth said.
The debate on the cost-of-living increase was emotional, with Appropriations Chairman Livingston complaining that opponents were implying that Congress had not earned the reward.
Such arguments are a "disservice to this body and to the other body," Livingston said.
He said anyone who did not want the pay increase could simply give it to charity, adding that he was taking some risk in being an outspoken proponent of the pay boost.
"It is not politically wise for me to stand here and make this speech," he said.
Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., said she resented the "self- flagellation against members of this Congress."
And Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he is "proud to be a member of Congress," contending that if pay is not increased, the House would be filled with "whackos and millionaires."
But opponents blasted the process that led to a delay in the vote and questioned whether members deserved the additional money.
Hayworth said that "any increase in pay should be tied to performance," adding that other federal employees, such as military personnel, are underpaid.
Rep. Lynn Rivers, D-Mich., said pay raise supporters were trying to "shun public scrutiny."