Payback! GOP anger derails plan for Hill pay raise


House Democratic leaders Monday abandoned attempts to revive an annual pay raise cherished by rank and file lawmakers, a decision prompted by lingering GOP anger over last year’s campaign.

Lawmakers’ pay will be frozen at $165,200 for this year in a dispute fueled by the Democrats’ use of the issue in last year’s campaign, violating a yearslong understanding that the competing parties would not attack each other over pay raises.

At issue is the annual congressional cost of living adjustment, or COLA, under which lawmakers automatically get a pay hike unless Congress votes to block it. Democratic and Republican leaders had worked cozily for years to make sure an annual pay-related vote went smoothly.

Under the agreement, the annual vote came on an obscure procedural move — instead of a direct up-or-down vote — and the Democratic and GOP whips each delivered a roughly equal number of votes to shut off any move to block the pay hike.

That arrangement fell apart when Democrats announced last summer they would opt out of the pay raise until Congress acted to raise the minimum wage. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads attacking Republicans for taking pay raises while blocking numerous attempts to raise the minimum wage.

A top House GOP leader said Democrats broke the agreement last year after the pay raise-related vote had already taken place. In a 263-152 vote in June, the House blocked a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to force an up-or-down vote on the pay raise.

“The agreement always was that the parties would not use the COLA issue in the campaign,” said House GOP Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri. “It was as formal as anything not signed is.”

In December, a GOP-drafted bill delayed implementation of the pay raise until Feb. 16. Democratic leaders tried in recent days to craft language to delay the pay raise a few more weeks or months to provide more time for the minimum wage bill to advance into law.

Republicans said no.

“The DCCC ran their own ads attacking (GOP) members on this,” Blunt said. “Because of that their members are going to suffer in terms of not being able to have a COLA.”

Members were originally due to begin receiving a 1.7 percent, or $2,800, annual increase Jan. 1, but they already lost about $320 with the delay to Feb. 16.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press