With summer sizzling in the nation's capital, members of Congress are eager to escape the heat -- both climatic and political -- but their itchy discomfort should be salved by the pay raise they've granted themselves.
Yes, in the midst of the national economy's collapse, the disappearing budget surplus and the ever-growing cost of homeland security, senators and representatives decided they deserve more money. As House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, quipped Sunday: "I don't know why anybody in America would say, 'Mr. Big shot, get yourself elected to Congress and then be stupid enough to deny yourself the pay and benefits that your job warrants."' Armey made that comment during his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" talk show.
Mr. Big Shot? Hardly. The American people aren't buying the argument that our national legislators are so overworked and so underpaid, they've earned every extra dollar they'll be getting. That said, there is a way members of Congress can return to their home communities after the Senate and House recess and avoid being tarred and feathered for fattening their wallets while hundreds of thousands of Americans are without work or have had to accept pay freezes and concessions: they can embrace President Bush's advice and keep working until they've taken care of the legislative agenda that's essential to the America's financial well-being and security.
A 3.3 percent cost-of-living increase means a $5,000 a year boost in the average representative's annual salary. It goes into effect in January and is the fourth increase in four years. Rank-and-file members will be earning $155,000 a year. While Armey insisted that Congress didn't actually vote itself a raise, but simply decided not to block the automatic cost-of-living adjustment, the fact remains that lawmakers have rewarded themselves before completing the nation's business.
As President Bush noted, there isn't any reason why Congress can't pass legislation dealing with corporate fraud, homeland security and presidential authority to negotiate trade deals without congressional interference before taking a break. Indeed, if lawmakers don't get their work done, they shouldn't leave. These are extraordinary times and it is not unreasonable to expect an extraordinary effort from our elected officials.