Everyone But Us

I travel a fair bit, and everywhere I go I hear the same story. Businesses are cutting back, trimming expenses, letting people go. General Motors has announced huge lay-offs; so has IBM. Here at Prison Fellowship, we've had to reduce our staff. Why? Because we're in lean times. Everyone's feeling the recession. Everyone's tightening their belts. Well, almost everyone. There's one group that seems to be immune to it all--one place where the recession seems to have no effect at all. I'm talking about the Congress of the United States. You see, while the rest of us bite the bullet, Congress keeps increasing its own pay. The latest raise was just last month. You didn't notice? That's because it was done so quietly. There were almost no news stories about it. You see, Congress has grown smart. In the past, nearly every time it voted itself a raise, there was public opposition. And there should be. After all, members of Congress are the only people in the country with the power to increase their own salaries by a simple vote. The only way they can be held accountable is through public pressure. But our honorable representatives aren't all that excited about being held accountable. So the last time they wanted a pay hike, they voted in the dead of night, after the press had gone home. But then our lawmakers came up with an even smarter strategy. They passed legislation granting themselves a Cost of Living Adjustment every year. It works automatically--so it requires no vote, no debate, no public justification. On January first of this year, without a murmur from the press or the public, Congress received an automatic cost-of-living increase of $4,400. By this simple law, Congress has insulated itself from the economic fall-out of its own policies. If inflation goes up, the rest of us suffer an erosion in our buying power. But Congress doesn't have to worry. If inflation jumps 10 percent, its salary automatically goes up 10 percent. Inflation can jump 20, 30 percent and Congressional pay will automatically keep pace. It's not as though Congress needs a salary increase--it's had plenty already. Over past 5 years, congressional pay has risen 70 percent--from about $77,000 to $130,00. And that's not the whole story. With all the pensions and perks they give themselves, says a former representative, members of Congress can support the life style of someone earning twice as much. So it's almost comical to turn on the news and hear the Senate Majority Leader urging the public to "tighten their belts" and "do more with less." Who is Congress kidding? They themselves are doing less with more--and more, and more. The whole thing is utter hypocrisy. If businesses can downsize when times are lean, why can't government? Why can't members of Congress earn a little less or have smaller staffs? It's time for office holders to be honest about the way they dip their hands into the public coffer to enrich themselves. The Book of Proverbs says dishonest money dwindles away, and just maybe that's why, no matter how much money we give government, it never seems to have enough. So let's demand greater accountability from our elected representatives. Write to your congressional representatives and ask them if they voted for that automatic raise. And for that matter, are they going to keep it? Nothing say they can't return it to the treasury. And if they don't like being held accountable, you have the last word come next November.


Chuck Colson


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