Examiner Editorial: Cut Congress members’ pay, keep them home 

It’s been 77 years since members of Congress took a pay cut. It happened April 1, 1933, and it was no April Fool’s joke, as the nation was in the Great Depression.

Today, a first-term Arizona Democrat, Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick, has garnered a record number of co-sponsors for her proposed Taking Responsibility for Congressional Pay Act. Her bill requires a 5 percent cut, or $8,700, from the $174,000 annual salary now paid to senators and representatives. Kirkpatrick’s measure has attracted 19 co-sponsors, the most ever for a pay-cut bill, she said. Kirkpatrick is not waiting on her colleagues to implement the pay cut, either, as she is returning $8,700 in equal monthly installments to the Treasury Department.

Kirkpatrick makes the case for her proposal in the most direct manner possible: “The leadership of both parties have ignored the voices of the people for decades. Now we are facing some of the most difficult economic times in generations, and I am sending a message to Washington politicians that the people have had enough. When Congress was working to end the Great Depression, they cut their salaries — why haven’t we taken that same basic step? The time for politics as usual is over, and the time for action is now. Washington needs to finally step up.”

Call it grandstanding if you will, but whatever her motives, Kirkpatrick is right. With unemployment at 9.8 percent (17 percent when those who have given up looking for work are counted), Congress members should stop worrying about how much other people make and prove their commitment to fiscal discipline by cutting their own paychecks.

While they’re at it, they should also change the House rule that requires representatives to be on the House floor to vote, as proposed recently in this newspaper by Ralph Benko, former deputy counsel to a presidential commission on privatization of government services. The rule made sense years ago when traveling from a member’s home district to the nation’s capital took weeks. But it’s a relic in an age of Skype, video conferencing, ­webcams and GoToMeeting.com.

One bad consequence of making representatives be here to vote is that Washington, D.C., too easily becomes their real home. Most live here full time, send their kids to local schools and become part of regional communities. They are thus easy prey for lobbyists and party leaders with agendas. Letting representatives vote from their home district offices would put them back among the people they are supposed to represent. And having them closer would make it easier for voters to keep a close eye on them and harder for special interests to get to them.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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